Thursday, July 26, 2012

FIRSTS IN SPACE – Sally Ride, Soviet Cosmonauts, Fruit Flies, Monkeys, and NAZI V-2 Rockets

Sally Ride, the first American woman in space died recently and that set me to thinking.  If Sally Ride was the first American woman in space, who was the first woman in space?  

From the back of my mind came the face of a Soviet cosmonaut from the early 1960s.  With a little Googling around, I came up with the forgotten name to go with that face:  Valentina Tereshkova, who flew for the now-defunct U.S.S.R space program back on 16 June 1963, making her the first woman in space.  But due to Cold War politics, she faded from America’s memory.  Ms Ride flew on the space shuttle Challenger,18 June 1983, 20 years after Tereshkova flew in space. 

Despite being the third woman in space, Sally Ride is The Woman of Space to many Americans.  The real poke in the eye for astronaut women was the fact that Geraldine Cobb was the first U.S. woman to undergo astronaut testing, but the program was scrapped in 1961.  Who knows, Ms Cobb might have had the honor of being the first woman in space had things gone differently.  As an aside, Svetlanta Savitskaya was the first woman to walk in space on 17 June 1984, with a walk that lasted over three hours.

So this mania of space firsts led me to wonder as to what was the first animal in space from those primitive launches of V-2s, to Sputnik, to recent history, and I have the answers here:

- First chimp in space was Ham who flew on a U.S. Project Mercury rocket on 31 January 1961.

- First dog in space was Laika, who flew for the Soviet Union on 3 November 1957.

- First monkey in space was Albert, a rhesus monkey who flew on a captured V-2 rocket on 11 June 1948, launched by the USA.

- First insects in space – fruit flies launched in U.S. V-2 rocket 1947.  Earlier 1946 flights did not fly high enough to enter space, only ascending 38 miles.  See below.#

- First plant in space – corn launched in the same U.S. V-2 rocket that carried the fruit flies in 1947.

- Despite the Muppet Show, there never were any Pigs In Space, sorry Ms. Piggy

I’ve got to wonder, who will the first child in space be?  This comes from an old Lost In Space Fan, both the comic book and the TV show.  It’s kind of funny that monkeys, chimps, dogs, fruit flies, and even corn beat human beings into space.  Think about that next time you have corn for dinner or bat at a pesky fly!

Ham, the first chimp in space is buried at the International Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo, just an early missile’s shot from where Robert Goddard, inspired by H. G. Wells* and early science fiction, tested his primitive rockets and where the U.S. tested and launched captured NAZI V-2 rockets on White Sands in the late 1940s.  

Sally Ride is gone and so is the chance to meet her, but Valentinia Tereshkova is still alive and it would be really nice if some large SF convention with a good budget could get her to attend as Astronaut Guest of Honor.  I’d really like to meet her.  I’m sorry I never got to meet Sally Ride.

It’s a shame the space race during the Cold War was such a politicized affair of us versus them although that drove the U.S. into space.   It’s also a shame that Sally Ride is being made into a political statement after her death.  She flew as a human being, a woman, and an American, listed in no particular order.  She is survived her ex-husband, astronaut Steve Hawley (1982-1987) and by Tam O’Shaughnessey, her partner of the past 27 years, and by millions of aspiring astronauts that looked up to Sally Ride … as a person.
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*H. G. Wells died 13 August 1946, I don’t know if he was aware of the 1946 White Sands rocket tests or his impact on Goddard, but I’d like to think he did.

#Note:  The boundary of space is not always defined uniformly by different agencies at different times.  Such as the Karman Line 100km (62 miles) used by the Federation Aeronautic International, NASA mission control using 122 km (76) miles as re-entry altitude, and the U.S.A uses the definition of 50 miles  (80km) as space in determining who is an astronaut.  These boundaries become important when applying U.N. Space Law.

An article about animals in space
An article about outer space in general
An article about weightlessness

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