galacticjourney: (Default)
The results are in! NASA has picked its first seven astronauts, dubbed "The Mercury Seven" since they will be flying the new one-man spacecraft when it debuts for piloted missions, perhaps next year.

The newspaper mistakenly described them as "GI"s the other day, but they are, in fact the best of the best American military test pilots from all of the services except the Army. 110 candidates were winnowed to 31, and of them, 24 were sent packing (though I suspect we may see some of them in later astronaut groups).

The chosen seven are a homogenous bunch in several ways: white, married with children, mildly Protestant, in their 30's. But they come from a variety of places and service backgrounds. In alphabetical order, we have:


The astronauts expressing confidence that they will all come back from space safe and sound; L to R: Slayton, Shepard, Schirra, Grissom, Glenn, Cooper, Carpenter

Navy Lieutenant. Malcolm "Scott" Carpenter: 33, much has been made in the local paper since he is a native, though adopted, son from Garden Grove, California. His wife registered him for the astronaut program while Scott was at sea. He has the least flight time of the astronauts, but this is more than compensated by the man's dreaminess quotient. What a hunk!

Air Force Captain Leroy "Gordo" Cooper (for those not militarily inclined, this rank is the same grade as Navy Lieutenant): 32 and a Colorado resident. He's flown the fancy new planes, including the F-102 and F-106B. Gordo speaks with an Okie drawl, but I understand he's quite a sharp tack.

Marine Lieutenant Colonel John H. Glenn: 37, from Ohio, may have the most impressive credentials. He flew 59 combat missions in World War 2, more than a hundred in Korea, and he has the highest rank of the candidates. He's also the most religious, the nicest, and the (reportedly) the most abstemious. I'd put odds on this fellow getting a plum spot in the line-up.

Air Force Captain Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom: 33, from Indiana, is the youngest and shortest of the group, but he has the most combat records under his belt (in Korea) than anyone in the group but Glenn.

Navy Lieutenant Commander (between the Lieutenants/Captains and Lt. Colonel Glenn in Rank) Walter M. "Wally" Schirra: 36, from New Jersey, he's apparently the prankster of the group. He comes by his talent honestly, his father having been a stunt pilot and his mother a wing walker!

Navy Lieutenant Commander Alan B. Shepard Jr.: 35, from New Hampshire, has the most flight time but zero combat experience. He has an intense air about him suggesting he may be a leader type. He confidently declared that he expected orbital flight would be no more hazardous than testing out a new plane on Earth.

Air Force Captain Donald K. "Deke" Slayton: 35, from Wisconsin, he's got almost as much flight time as Shepard, and World War II combat experience. He has a smart, no-nonsense look about him. I suspect he'll get a good mission. He said he signed up because we'd pretty much finished exploring the Earth, and it was time to pierce the next frontier.


L to R: Grissom, Glenn, Cooper, Carpenter

Unmanned test flights of the Mercury spacecraft, which looks a bit like a thimble, are expected to start in the summer. The capsules will be launched sub-orbitally first on "Little Joe" test rockets and then Redstones (which were used to launch the first American Explorers.

I'm willing to wager that, now that American's first spacemen have been identified, our upcoming science fiction will make many and copious references to them, either directly or allusive. For decades, authors have written how the first men would go into space--now they know for certain (that is, unless the Soviets beat us again to the punch...)

See you in a couple of days with news of Fred Pohl's latest novella, really a short novel. It's excellent. Until then...

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galacticjourney: (Default)
For a little over a year, both Superpowers have lobbed unmanned payloads of various (generally increasing) sizes into orbit. But the real question in the public's mind is when either side is going to get around to sending a person into orbit. After all, things that go beep-beep are all very well, but can a dumb robot really stand in for an independently thinking human?



We all know that the Russians plan to send someone into space--their rocket is certainly big enough for the job. They just need to figure out how to get it safely back to Earth. For the moment, the United States does not have a rocket strong enough to send a manned spacecraft, but we will soon. It will probably be an adaptation of the Atlas ICBM, the most powerful missile in our arsenal.

As it turns out, our new National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been working on a manned space program since it first came into existence last October. Just one month later, on November 26, Project Astronaut came into existence. Apparently, they didn't like that name because when NASA Director Keith Glennan officially announced America's manned space program, he gave it the evocative and all-American name, Project Mercury. Perhaps the next one in the series will be Project Lincoln. Let's hope neither turns out to be an Edsel.



From all accounts, Mercury is going to be a simple, one-manned ship. I haven't heard what it's going to look like, but it will probably have a wingless, ballistic shape. I'm sure the Air Force would love to have a sleek spaceplane in its stable, but with the X-15 as yet untested, its big brother is probably many years off.



So now the question is who will they get to fly the thing? Well, back in January, NASA put forth the following qualifications: age, less than 40; height, less than 5 feet 11 inches; excellent physical condition; bachelor's degree or equivalent; graduate of test pilot school; 1,500 hours flight time; and a qualified jet pilot.

Sadly, while I qualify for three (four if you push it) of the seven qualifications, I've logged all of seven hours piloting an airplane, and it wasn't a jet. I have it on good authority, however, that NASA has gotten plenty of applicants, and they will survive just fine without me. These applicants have just begun an arduous medical screening that will likely wash out a good number of eager would-be spacemen.

How ignominous: before vaulting off into the wild black yonder, they first have to bend over and cough for Uncle Sam, or at least his team of nurses. I suppose the prize is well worth it, though.

We won't know who or how many astronaut candidates will be selected for a while. I am given to understand, however, that all of the astronauts will be from the military service, which leaves hotshot civilians like Scott Crossfield out of the running. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe it's a security issue.

I hope you are enjoying the interplay of science fact and fiction in this column. I think the two are so intertwined these days that it would be silly to eschew coverage of one of them.

Back on the 12th!





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