I grew up during the early years of manned space exploration, an exciting concept that I regularly followed. My hometown was also the hometown of an astronaut who flew in the Gemini and Apollo programs. I went to both of his homecoming parades, the Gemini 12 flight and his Apollo 11 flight. There was a major difference in the parade size for Buzz Aldrin’s homecoming parades, from a couple of vehicles and few people watching to several vehicles and floats in a long parade with lots of people watching.
New Hampshire also had an important stake in exploring with Alan Shepard (1923 – 1998) being the first American in space. He flew in 1961 aboard the first manned flight in the Mercury program and later on played some golf on the surface of the moon. After the single seater Mercury program came the two seater Gemini program which included the first American to walk in space and two spacecraft maneuvering around each other. The Apollo program followed Gemini, and landed men on the moon.
It was a major competition between the Soviet Union and the United States in the late 1950s and the 1960s, to stake their technological hold on space. The Soviets had a lot of firsts in the early stages of the Space Race, with first satellite (1957 – Sputnik), first man in space, first man to walk in space and first woman in space. However, the United States prevailed by landing men on the moon.
After the race to get to the moon, there were several other programs to learn about living in space. These included Skylab (American) and Mir (Soviet), which lead to the International Space Station (ISS) which is still occupied today by interchanging astronauts from several nations. The Space Shuttle was a major factor in building and supplying the International Space Station, and used as an orbiting platform for many space experiments. Tragically there were two major disasters in this program, which included the lost of New Hampshire’s Christa McAuliffe in 1986.
There are so many stories available about mankind exploring space. Some of the stories can be found in the 629.4*** section of the Main Floor Non-fiction section, including:
Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson
A Ball, a Dog and a Monkey: 1957 the Space Race Begins by Michael D’Antonio
Homesteading Space: the Skylab Story by David Hill
Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon by Alan Shepard