Fans of television’s The Big Bang Theory are familiar with the memorable episode where Howard’s space toilet, the Wolowitz Space Disposal System, went horribly wrong and threatened to turn into a waste distribution system. As it turns out, such a scenario was more closely grounded in fact, rather than comedic fiction. Continue reading
When the Apollo 11 astronauts left earth for the moon in July 1969, it was the culmination of the best efforts to make good on President John Kennedy’s pledge to send a man to the moon before the decade was over and return him safely to the earth. Despite their best efforts, everyone knew the mission was fraught with risks.
With that in mind, President Richard Nixon commissioned a speech written by William Safire to inform the nation in the event that the astronauts became stranded on the lunar surface and could not return to earth.
It began: “Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace. These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice. These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.”
On December 16, 1965, astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra were on Gemini 6 when they transmitted the following message: “Gemini VII, this is Gemini VI. We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, up in a polar orbit. He’s in a very low trajectory traveling from north to south and has a very high climbing ratio. It looks like it might even be a … Very low. Looks like he might be going to reenter soon. Stand by one … You might just let me try to pick up that thing.”
The astronauts then played Jingle Bells on a harmonica and bells, thus earning their place in history for playing the first musical instruments in space.
You can hear a recording of the transmission here.
Six monkeys named Albert were among earth’s first astronauts.
Albert I, a rhesus monkey, rode to over 63 km (39 mi) on a V2 rocket on June 11, 1948 . Albert died of suffocation during the flight.
Albert II flew one year later. He survived the V2 flight on June 14, 1949, but died on impact after a parachute failure. He has the distinction of becoming the first monkey in space, climbing to 134 km (83 mi).
Albert III made it to 35,000 feet (10.7 km) before dying when his V2 exploded on September 16, 1949.
Albert IV was the passenger on the last monkey V2 flight and died on impact on December 8, 1949 after another parachute failure. His flight reached 130.6 km. Alberts I, II, and IV were rhesus monkeys while Albert III was a cynomolgus monkey.
On April 18, 1951, Albert V flew on Aerobee an rocket and died due to parachute failure.
Albert VI (also known as Yorick, possibly in hopes of breaking the streak of bad luck), along with 11 mouse crewmates, became the first animals to survive rocket flight on September 20, 1951, although he died 2 hours after landing. Two of the mice also died after recovery; all of the deaths were thought to be related to stress from overheating in the sealed capsule in the New Mexico sun while awaiting the recovery team. Albert VI’s flight reached 70 km, so it did not qualify as spaceflight.