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The Greatest Moments in US Space Exploration

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U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and is wife Jacqueline, welcome U.S. astronaut Alan Shepard and his wife Louise, at the White House on May 9, 1961 in Washington, D.C. - In May, 1961 Shepard made the first manned flight of the Mercury program. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

Michael Dorstewitz By Wednesday, 13 March 2024 08:42 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Last month NASA accomplished something it hadn’t done in 52 years — about two generations: It landed a spacecraft on the lunar surface.

As an added bonus it did so with the help of private enterprise: A Falcon 9 rocket provided by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX Corporation.

NASA made the announcement using Twitter/X, a social media platform also under the control of Musk.

"Your order was delivered. . . to the Moon!," NASA wrote.

Intuitive Machines' "uncrewed lunar lander landed at 6:23pm ET (2323 UTC), bringing NASA science to the Moon's surface. These instruments will prepare us for future human exploration of the Moon under #Artemis."

It’s been a long time since the United States has been able to chalk up any success in space, and U.S. astronauts have even had to hitch rides from Russia in order to get to and from the International Space Station.

Here are America’s top moments in space exploration, listed in chronological order.

No. 1: The First U.S. Satellite

The United States found itself playing catch-up after the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1 on Oct. 4, 1957, followed by their launch of a dog named Laika one month later.

America scrambled and was able to send its first satellite, Explorer 1, into space on Jan. 31, 1958. It remained in orbit for more than 12 years, then it eventually burned after circling Earth more than 58,000 times.

No. 2: First Living Creature to Return to Earth

On May 28, 1959, the United States sent two female monkeys, named Able and Baker, into space aboard capsule propelled by a Jupiter rocket. Despite experiencing weightlessness and attaining speeds in excess of 10,000 mph, they suffered no ill effects after being returned safely back to Earth 15 minutes later.

Unfortunately, the dog Laika that the Soviets sent into space 18 months earlier died of heat exposure after the loss of the capsule’s heat shields.

No. 3: First U.S. Astronaut in Space

On May 1, 1961, U.S. Naval officer and original Mercury 7 astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to be sent into space aboard Freedom 7.

However, the United States was still playing catch-up, as Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was both launched into space and went into orbit several weeks before Shepard.

That prompted a challenge given by then-newly-inaugurated President John F. Kennedy to a joint session of Congress several weeks later, that "this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

No. 4: First American to Orbit Earth

U.S. Marine Col. John Glenn. another original Mercury 7 astronaut, attained rock star status when he became the first American to orbit Earth aboard Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962. The United States was still lagging behind the Soviets, but we were ramping the space program up in answer to Kennedy’s call.

Glenn was later able to parlay his celebrity status into a political career when Ohio voters sent him to the U.S. Senate.

No. 5: First Flight to Mars

On June 14, 1965 the United States was the first country to send a spacecraft, Mariner 4, to Mars, and the first to transmit photos of the red planet back to Earth.

Despite this feat and the acceleration of the U.S. space program, the United States continued to lag behind the Soviets, especially in manned missions.

By this time the USSR had sent a woman into space and a cosmonaut had performed the first tethered spacewalk outside of the capsule.

No. 6: First U.S. Spacecraft to Land on the Moon

On June 2, 1966, the United Stated landed Surveyor 1 on the lunar surface, gathered data and photographs and sent them back to Earth.

This happened four month after the Soviets landed its own unmanned spacecraft, Luna, on the moon.

No. 7: First Men to Orbit the Moon

On Dec. 21-28, 1968 the United States finally caught up — and even overtook the Soviets — when Apollo 8 orbited the moon.

The Soviets actually orbited the moon three months earlier, but their crew consisted of turtles, mealworms, seeds, and bacteria. Apollo 8 was crewed by Mission Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James A. Lovell, Jr., and Lunar Module Pilot William A. Anders.

While the Soviets studied the effects extended space travel on turtles and worms, we were preparing for the Big Kahuna — to meet JFK’s challenge of sending a man to the moon’s surface and bringing him safely back to Mother Earth.

No. 8: First Men on the Moon

On July 20, 1969, a mere seven months after Apollo 8, Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin navigated Lunar Module Eagle, carrying him and Mission Commander Neil Armstrong, to the moon’s surface from the Apollo 11 spacecraft.

Americans were transfixed in front of their black-and-white TVs as Aldrin reported, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed," and later when Armstrong announced as he stepped on the lunar surface, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."

Aldrin joined Armstrong 11 minutes later, as pilot Mike Collins flew Command Module Columbia in lunar orbit above.

And yes, they completed the challenge by returning safely back to Earth. But Kennedy wasn’t alive to see it — his life was tragically cut short by an assassin’s bullet nearly six years earlier.

No. 9: First Space Shuttle Mission

On April 12, 1981, NASA’s space shuttle Columbia became the first winged spaceship to orbit Earth and return by landing at an airport. Columbia flew 28 missions in total, spending more than 300 days in space before it tragically burned during reentry 22 years later.

NASA’s space shuttle fleet, Discovery, Endeavor and Atlantis, was eventually retired from March through July of 2011.

No. 10: Launch of the Hubble Space Telescope

On April 25, 1990, space shuttle Discovery crew placed the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. It was named after the late U.S. astronomer Edwin Hubble, who pioneered the fields of extragalactic astronomy and observational cosmology.

At the time the Hubble became operational, it was the most sophisticated optical observatory ever to orbit Earth, but has since been experiencing orbital decay.

The James Webb Space Telescope was launched in 2021 and is even more sophisticated. But it all began with the Hubble.

Michael Dorstewitz is a retired lawyer and has been a frequent contributor to Newsmax. He is also a former U.S. Merchant Marine officer and an enthusiastic Second Amendment supporter. Read Michael Dorstewitz's Reports — More Here.

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Here are America’s top moments in space exploration.
hubble, moon, nasa
Wednesday, 13 March 2024 08:42 AM
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