There have been many astronauts who have made tremendous contributions to our knowledge of space. Here are some of the most famous astronauts and some of their accomplishments.
Gagarin, a Russian, was the first man to enter space. He orbited the Earth on April 12, 1961. His achievement was highly symbolic at the height of the Cold War, and Gagarin became an international celebrity as a result. Despite his extraordinary achievements, it may have been his short stature (5′ 2″) that won him a spot in the tiny cockpit of the first manned spaceship.
Neil Armstrong may be the most famous astronaut of all. You may know him as the first man to step foot on the moon, and the speaker of many famous phrases like “The Eagle has landed” and “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.
Buzz Aldrin piloted the lunar module for the Apollo 11 mission and followed Neil Armstrong from the lander to the surface of the moon. He was the second man to set foot on the moon. After the deaths of the original Gemini 9 space mission crew, Aldrin was promoted to back-up crew for the mission. Aldrin also demonstrated that astronauts could work outside spacecraft with some nifty technical improvisation.
Sally became the first American woman in space when she flew aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. She flew to space again in 1984 and was later a member of the boards of inquiry into the loss of both the Challenger and the Columbia shuttles. Sadly, she died in July 2012 of pancreatic cancer.
Animal astronauts have played a vital role in the history of space exploration, doing things that humans could not do. Let's look at two of the most famous animal astronauts of our time.
Laika the Space Dog
Laika began her short life as a stray dog in Russia in 1954, and ended it as a canine cosmonaut in 1957. Laika went into orbit aboard Sputnik 2, proving that a living creature could survive launch and weightlessness. But as no re-entry technology had yet been developed, she was doomed to die in space. There were many speculations on the death of Laika, with some claims that she had died of euthanization or that her death was the result of running out of oxygen, but news was finally released that Laika had died because of overheating while the spacecraft launched.
Ham the Chimpanzee
Ham, a chimpanzee, got off a little better than Laika. For one thing, Ham survived his flight aboard Project Mercury mission MR-2 and lived into the early ’80s. Ham was named No. 65 until he returned to earth successfully, reportedly because American officials didn’t want the bad press that might accompany the death of a ‘named’ chimp in case of an unsuccessful mission.
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