• Exploring American History

Exploring the Last Frontier – Part 1 Balloons to Space Shuttle

Since the beginning of time, man has been overcome with a desire to reach the heavens.

“And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven” - Genesis 11:4

On September 19, 1783, a scientist by the name of Pilatre De Rozier, along with the Marquis d’Arlandes, launched ‘Aerostat Revellion’, the first hot air balloon. Onboard were three ‘passengers’– a rooster, a duck and a ram. The balloon remained afloat for approximately 15 minutes, then fell back to earth.

Two months later, on November 21st, the first manned balloon flight was attempted. Two French brothers, Etienne & Joseph Montgolfier, were the passengers. The balloon was launched from the center of Paris, remained aloft for 20 minutes and birthed the joy of hot air ballooning.

On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers made the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight.

Beginning in 1959, the United States started its exploration of the last frontier with the goal to put a man in orbit around the Earth; however, it would not be the first country to put a man into space. On April 12, 1961, the Russians sent Vostok 1 into the wild blue yonder with Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on board. The US played catch-up the following month.

The morning of May 5, 1961, started early for Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. At the age of 37, he was about to go where no American had gone before. Beginning his day with a breakfast of two poached eggs and steak, he looked around at the silhouettes of giant towers and cranes, then into the star-filled sky. Fine weather had been predicted by the local meteorologists. Not long afterward he was given a final check over by the medics on base, then put on his rubberized nylon space suit and readied himself to become the first American sent into space.

Freedom 7 awaited his arrival on the launch pad. As he prepared to board the capsule, he chuckled, “They really wanted to send a dog, but they thought that would be too cruel.” 9:34 EST, the words "Lift off!” were heard and Shepard was on his way.

President John F. Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, with a dramatic and ambitious goal. He stated “. . . First, I believe 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.”

Kennedy did not live to see his challenge met, but met it was – on July 20, 1969. On that day, Apollo 11’s lunar module Eagle landed on the moon’s surface with Astronauts Neil Armstrong & Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, Jr. aboard while Michael Collins continued to orbit in the command module. Upon touchdown, Armstrong announced “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." Before long, Armstrong emerged as the first man to set foot on the solid facade below. After resting on the moon’s surface for 21 hours 31 minutes, Eagle took off to rejoin the command module, loaded with 47.5 pounds of lunar rocks.

Following the Apollo missions, NASA moved on to the Space Shuttle program, beginning on April 12, 1981 with Columbia and continuing on with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. These mighty crafts would serve NASA through 30 years of missions as they carried a mixture of astronauts from the United States and other countries into orbit to repair satellites, conduct research and build the International Space Station.

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