Oklahomans and Space
Faith 7 mission patch (photo courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
The Mercury program was the first American effort to send humans into space, and lasted from 1961 to 1963. NASA chose the seven astronauts who would first go into space in 1959, six months after it was founded. They had to go through rigorous testing and flight practices, and were known as the Mercury Seven. The astronauts were shot into space in a single capsule on a rocket that could only hold one person, who had to stay sitting down the whole time. Two of the six flights in the Mercury program were suborbital flights, where they would reach space and immediately return. Four flights entered full orbit around the Earth.
Leroy Gordon Cooper Jr. of Shawnee, Oklahoma, was an astronaut for the Mercury program. He flew on the Faith 7 on May 15, 1963. The Faith 7 was the last and longest flight of all the Mercury missions, and flew around the Earth twenty-two times. Cooper said they were “saving the best for last.” At the end of the flight, the automatic system return failed, but he was able to use his piloting skills to get back to Earth safely.
The Mercury program was very important to NASA, and helped them create plans for future missions. They learned how to put a human into orbit, how to live and work in space, how to communicate with spacecraft, and how to optimize spacecraft equipment.
Mercury-Atlas 9, also called Faith 7, launching (image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
Drawing of the Mercury Capsule showing only one astronaut could fit in the capsule (image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
The Gemini program was the second phase of NASA’s space program. Its purpose was to prepare to go to the moon. NASA wanted to see if humans could survive long enough in space for the round trip to the moon, which was about two weeks. They also wanted to see how humans would survive and work in spacesuits outside of the spaceship. Finally, they wanted to see how two modules would hook up and disconnect with each other in space, because the Apollo spacecraft would have multiple parts that needed to perform this task. Two people could fly in the Gemini spacecraft. There were ten manned missions in the Gemini program from 1965 to 1966.
Leroy Gordon Cooper Jr. commanded the Gemini 5. It launched on August 21, 1965. The Gemini 5 helped to prove that people could live in space at least eight days, which was about long enough to make it to the moon. Thomas Stafford flew in the Gemini 6-A that launched on December 15, 1965, with Walter Schirra. They flew within a foot of the Gemini 7, proving that spacecraft could fly close together in space, which was necessary for learning how to rendezvous and dock. Thomas Stafford flew again in the Gemini 9-A when the original crew died in a plane crash. The spacecraft launched on June 3, 1966.
Gemini 5 mission patch (image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
Gemini 6 mission patch (image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
Gemini 9 mission patch (image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
Gemini space suit used for testing (on loan from Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, Inc., Oklahomans and Space exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center).
Gemini 9 spacecraft launch, 1966 (22311.S-66-34098, Jerry Elliott Collection, OHS).
Apollo and Apollo-Soyuz Programs
The goals of the Apollo program were to land a human on the moon for the first time and to investigate how humans could live and work on the moon. The Apollo spacecraft was made up of three parts. Three astronauts flew and lived in the Command Module, while the Service Module provided the technology to control the craft’s propulsion and flight. The Lunar Module would be the module that landed on the moon, carrying two astronauts to perform lunar experiments and exploration. The other astronaut would be orbiting the moon in the Command Module waiting for them. When they were ready to leave, the Lunar Module would return them to the Command Module for the three astronauts to fly home. The Apollo program would make a total of eleven spaceflights and have twelve astronauts walk on the moon from 1968 to 1972.
Thomas Stafford of Weatherford, Oklahoma, was the commander on Apollo 10 that launched on May 18, 1969. The crew of the Apollo 10 orbited the moon and tested the Lunar Module. On the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first people to walk on the moon when they landed on July 20, 1969. Fred Haise was the Lunar Module pilot for Apollo 13, which launched April 11, 1970. This infamous flight became dangerous when an explosion happened in the spacecraft, and the crew had to abandon their mission and turn around. Haise overcame dangerous odds and helped fly the spacecraft and crew safely back to Earth. Stuart Roosa from Claremore, Oklahoma, was the Command Module pilot
Apollo 10 mission patch (image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
Apollo 13 mission patch (courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration)
Thomas Stafford was also the commander for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which launched July 15, 1975. This was the first mission where Americans and Soviets worked together, which helped to settle some of the tension caused by the Cold War. You can watch a video of the two crafts docking and the astronauts and cosmonauts shaking hands at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=es7Br9kJBbo.
Apollo-Soyuz mission patch (image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
Apollo 14 mission patch (image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
The Saturn 1-B rocket launching the Apollo-Soyuz mission (18220.l2.0, Jerry Elliott Collection, OHS).
Commemorative plaque to symbolize cooperation between the US and the Soviets (image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
Full view of Skylab in orbit (photo courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
Skylab was America’s first space station. It launched on May 14, 1973, and was occupied until February, 1974. It continued to orbit the Earth until 1979. Its main purpose was to study the long-term effects of living in space, as well as to perform many science experiments and spacewalks in zero-gravity. Skylab contained a solar observatory and telescope that were used to take thousands of pictures and scans of the solar system. The main living space doubled as a workshop.
Skylab hosted three different manned missions, called SL-2, SL-3, and SL-4. Each mission consisted of three astronauts. SL-2 would stay in space for twenty-eight days, SL-3 for sixty days, and SL-4 for eighty-four days.
Owen Garriott of Enid, Oklahoma, was the scientist pilot for Skylab 3, which launched on July 28, 1973. He and the crew performed many biology and physics experiments and added solar shades to the outside of the space station. William Pogue from Sand Springs, Oklahoma, was the command module pilot for the Skylab 4, which launched on November 16, 1973. Pogue participated in two spacewalks, and helped perform extensive repairs on the solar observatory’s telescope mount.
Skylab II mission patch (image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
Skylab 4 mission patch (image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
Space Shuttle Program and the International Space Station
Space shuttle Columbia (image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
The space shuttle was America’s first reusable spacecraft, officially called Space Transportation Systems (STS). Five shuttles were constructed initially, but two were lost in tragic accidents along with their crew: the Challenger shuttle in 1986, and the Columbia shuttle in 2003. Space shuttles are launched with two reusable rocket boosters and a disposable large fuel tank, and can carry up to eight astronauts. Space shuttles are able to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and perform a gliding landing like an airplane, unlike the ocean splashdowns in previous spacecraft. Flights were used for astronaut transportation, payload delivery, and the pickup of objects in orbit. Space shuttles transported many pieces of the International Space Station into space, as well as the Hubble Space Telescope. The first space shuttle launch was on April 12, 1981, and the last flight was on July 8, 2011.
The International Space Station, or ISS, is an orbiting system designed as a long-term space for humans to live and work. Sixteen countries had a hand in helping build and maintain the ISS and people from twenty different countries have stayed on board, making it one of the largest and most expensive cooperative technological projects in the world. Construction on the ISS began in 1998, and occupation by humans began on November 2, 2000. The space station has been continuously occupied ever since, and is planned to last until 2030. Experiments and projects performed on the ISS have led to many groundbreaking discoveries, and continue to this day.
Many Oklahomans have been a part of the Space Shuttle and ISS missions. Owen Garriott became the first person to operate a HAM radio from space on the STS-9 mission, which launched on November 28, 1983. Shannon Lucid flew on many shuttle missions and spent a significant amount of time on the International Space Station’s predecessor, the Russian space station Mir. John Herrington performed three spacewalks while on the STS-113 mission, which launched on the shuttle Endeavor on November 23, 2002.
STS-9 patch (image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
STS-113 patch (image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
STS-4 patch (image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration).