“I am a stranger. I come in peace. Take me to your leader and there will be a massive reward for you in eternity.” John Glenn carried these words, written in seven different languages, on his historic mission to space. His mission renewed U.S. confidence in the midst of troubling times.
Over forty years later, after competition had evolved into cooperation, confidence in space travel would suffer a tragic setback with the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and its seven crew members.
Mark Your Calendars
From fruit flies to the Space Shuttle Columbia, February is filled with iconic moments in space travel. Here are four of those dates worth remembering this February.
February 1, 2003
The world witnessed the second fatal accident in the Space Shuttle program when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas. The disaster occurred just 16 minutes before the space shuttle was scheduled to land in Florida. The crew, Commander Rick D. Husband, Pilot William C. McCool, Payload Commander Michael P. Anderson, Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist David M. Brown and Mission Specialist Laurel Blair Salton Clark, were killed when the Space Shuttle disintegrated upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere.
Operations were suspended for over two years, delaying the construction of the International Space Station. With the exception of one final mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, all remaining shuttle missions were flown exclusively to the International Space Station.
February 7, 1984
Astronaut Bruce McCandless II performed man’s first untethered spacewalk off the Challenger space shuttle with a Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU). The MMU allowed the astronauts to perform untethered Extravehicular activity. The device was used on three Space Shuttle missions before being replaced by the Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue (SAFER).
February 20, 1947
Everyone loves a great space chimp story, but the lesser known heroes are the fruit flies that were launched into space aboard the V-2 rocket. The ascent lasted just 3 minutes and 10 seconds reaching 68 miles, exceeding the international definitions of the boundary of space. The fruit flies survived the trip and provided insight into the effects of radiation exposure at high altitudes.
February 20, 1962
After serving as the backup pilot for the first two manned Project Mercury flights, John Glenn was selected for NASA’s first manned orbital flight. John Glenn, one of the Mercury Seven, completed three orbits around Earth aboard the Friendship 7, becoming the first American to orbit Earth. After a 4 hour and 55 minute flight reaching a maximum altitude of about 162 miles, Friendship 7 safely splashed down 800 miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral.
On February 23, 1962, President Kennedy awarded John Glenn the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.