Breaking Barriers: 45 NASA’s Contributions to Human Spaceflight

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1Gordon Cooper

Gordon Cooper

In 1963, as NASA's Mercury-Atlas 9 capsule was reentering earth's atmosphere, it lost all power. Astronaut Gordon Cooper was forced to use his knowledge of constellations, his wristwatch, and his eyes to manually land his spacecraft. He ended up splashing just 4 miles from his recovery ship, the most accurate landing up to that point.


2. During the Apollo 11 lunar descent, the heart rate of Neil Armstrong, who was manually piloting the craft, was under 90 bpm. After the Eagle touched down, it spiked to almost 160 bpm.


3. NASA was inspired by Fritz Lang's film, 'Frau im Mond', to use countdowns for rocket launches. NASA used the countdown to not only help technicians synchronize, but also found that announcing the countdown would build suspense for those watching at home.


4. The debris field of the 2003 Columbia Disaster stretched from Texas through Louisiana. The search team was so thorough that they ended up recovering nearly 84,000 pieces of the shuttle, as well as discovering several murder victims and a few meth labs.


5. NASA had plans in place to sever all communication with Apollo 11 astronauts on the moon if they were to get stranded by a technical failure. Nixon even had a prewritten speech that said, "For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come, will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind." This almost did end up happening as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin broke a vital circuit breaker, snapping power to the engine. They however were able to push and hold it back in with a felt-tip pen long enough for it to take off from the moon.


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6Freeze-dried ice cream

Freeze-dried ice cream

Despite being strongly associated with NASA and astronauts, freeze-dried ice cream was never taken on board any missions to space.


7. If NASA's funding had remained at 1969 Apollo mission levels, NASA had plans to develop a lunar orbit station in 1978, a lunar surface base in 1980, and a manned mission to Mars in 1981 or 1983.


8. There is a highway in space called 'The Interplanetary Superhighway.' It was mapped out by NASA scientists to send probes around the solar system with the least resistance using gravity.


9. In response to the film "Apollo 18", NASA engineer John Schuessler clarified that moon landings ended with Apollo 17 because NASA simply did not have the time or funds to fit in more moon landings after 1972. He also sees no evidence of extraterrestrial life on the Moon


10. NASA's space shuttle flew 135 missions with a flight computer that had less than 1% of the computing power of an Xbox 360.


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11Snoopy Mascot

Snoopy Mascot

Snoopy is NASA's official safety mascot. Every astronaut since 1968 has worn a silver Snoopy pin into space. Upon return, the astronauts present the pin as a special recognition to a civilian team member who helped keep them safe.


12. NASA astronaut Anna Lee Fisher made news in 2012, when, during the landing of the Space Shuttle Discovery at Washington's Dulles Airport, she was asked by an aspiring young astronaut how they could get into the space program. Fisher quipped "study Russian."


13. NASA's 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft was secretly modified with missile countermeasures before bringing Enterprise to the 1983 Paris Air Show.


14. NASA took Nefertiti the jumping spider to the ISS to see if she could learn to hunt in zero gravity. She did, and when she returned to earth 110 days later, she successfully retrained her jumps again for earth's gravity.


15. In 1964, due to a malfunction aboard NASA's first unmanned Gemini mission, all messages to the craft from the southern hemisphere had to be delivered through an old automated telephone machine in Australia, operated by a woman named Lillian O'Donahue. She was rewarded with $6 for her overtime.


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16Mercury 13 Program

Mercury 13 Program

During the Mercury Program, 13 women who were mostly civilian test pilots, qualified for spaceflight under the same standards as the Mercury 7 astronauts, but NASA declined to consider them for spaceflight. One of the people that testified against their inclusion was John Glenn.


17. NASA engineer John Aaron who is credited with saving both Apollo 12 and Apollo 13, was forced to resign years later while serving as the Chief of NASA when Texas Senator Robert Krueger accused him of overspending to the tune of $500 million on Space Station Freedom, which later evolved into the International Space Station (ISS).


18. NASA often shows the movie "Armageddon" as part of its management training program and asks its new staff to find as many scientific inaccuracies as they can. This movie has at least 168 scientific inaccuracies.


19. During the Space Race, NASA turned the creation of a functional spacesuit that could withstand the harsh conditions of space into a competition. The participants of the competition were largely military contractors. However, Playtex, the bra maker, entered the competition and won it.


20. Since NASA astronauts weren't allowed to accept gifts or endorsements, General Motors leased Corvettes to several astronauts during the 1960s and 70s for just $1.


21WISE 1828+2650

WISE 1828+2650

Scientists at NASA have discovered stars that have temperatures lower than the human body. One of those, in particular, a brown dwarf star called 'WISE 1828+2650' is the record holder for the coldest star with an estimated atmospheric temperature cooler than room temperature, or less than 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius).


22. In 1979, as Skylab was about to crash back into the earth, the San Francisco Examiner offered $10,000 to the first person to deliver a piece to them within 72hrs. They knew it wasn't heading toward the USA and thought the prize would go unclaimed. It crashed in Esperance, Western Australia and an Aussie teenager collected a piece, jumped on a plane with no passport or luggage, and collected his prize.


23. NASA has used evolutionary genetic algorithms in the past which mimic Darwinian evolution to design better antennas for radio communication. These algorithms produce unusual-looking but very high-efficiency antennas called Evolved Antenna.


24. Apollo Astronauts didn't qualify for life insurance nor were they insured by NASA. They had to resort to 'insurance autographs'. They signed these just before launch with the expectation that their autograph's value would skyrocket in the event of their deaths.


25. Whiskers can spontaneously grow from tin and several other metals, sometimes causing catastrophic damage within electrical circuits. NASA has a team dedicated to investigating this risk, but the fundamental cause of "whiskering" has still not been discovered.

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