It is safe to say that everyone gets slack-jawed in amazement whenever the topic of outer space comes up. Whenever information on a new world reaches us, or we are treated to spectacular new pictures that show us the vastness of the universe and just how miniature us jumped-up little humans are on our blue speck floating amid the universe, most people lap it up.
A rocket leaps from the Earth and breaches the barrier of the blue sky above – nothing is more awe inspiring, humbling and at the same time pride-inducing as the images of a fragile ball that is the blue marble of Earth. Some of the bravest and coolest people by default are the ones hurled into the cosmos and into the unknown on these rockets: astronauts.
It would be pretty obvious that many astronauts are capable of doing awesome things, launching themselves skyward into the heavens obviously being the most awesome. But modern technology allows for space walkers to capture their brilliance and share it with the world, some of which is going to be shared in this article right now!
10. Edward White’s First Ever Spacewalk
Where better to launch the countdown at the place where stepping out into the vast unknown all began, many years ago. This year marks the 50th anniversary of humanity’s attempts and adventures in walking in outer space. Admittedly, our steps haven’t transported us much farther than the boundaries of our globe yet (only to the moon), though fifty years is a blink of an eye in terms of how old space is, so we’ve done more than well enough.
The momentous event that began it all took place half a century ago, on June 3rd, when Edward White first bridged the gap from the solid ground of Earth to taking an aimless flight/float into the limitless void beyond his Gemini Capsule in 1965. The 60s was a decade that proved to be a frenetic age of space exploration, defined by the infamous “Space Race,” a less than friendly contest waged between the two superpowers of the day: the USA and the USSR. During the era, many innovations were developed by both nations, as each pushed for supremacy over the sky as well as over the ground.
9. Space Selfies!
Our budding and ubiquitous handheld technology that allow us to talk, watch movies and take pictures are now as widespread as the people here on Earth. Therefore, it is clearly a matter of natural progression that this technology drift skyward several miles above our head.
The picture in question was taken as part of a spacewalk in order to carry out a module installation mission aboard the International Space Station, snapped by astronaut Mike Fossum. Well, even dedicated scientists carrying out the most breathtaking of spacewalks for 7 hours can get a little bored, so it figures that with a digital camera in hand, why not show the world beneath the view of the planet we all take so much for granted?
8. Planet of the Apes
No countdown of our voyage to the stars would be complete without a nod to the animals that participated in our first intrepid step forward to the stars. The Russians began firing animals upwards like a bunch of cruel bullying kids attaching furry things to a rocket (in the name of science, of course), beginning with Laika the dog.
What the Soviets could do the Americans could do better, and this took shape with a launch on the 31st January, 1961, propelling Ham the Chimp into space. The Simian space traveler journeyed 157 miles into the heavens before the capsule dropped back into the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, that year the Soviet’s went one better by launching cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into space.
7. The US Strikes Back
It didn’t take long for America to stop sitting on their hands in terms of the “Space Race.” After Gagarin’s historic flight and a figurative 1-0 to the Soviets, America retaliates with Alan Shepard as the first American in space, launching him into a sub-orbital flight aboard the Mercury spacecraft, Freedom 7. This evened the score in an 8-year battle, where above Earth, Kennedy and Khrushchev took aim at the moon.
6. Samantha Cristoforetti’s Espresso
Space exploration has always been documented by astronauts and shown to an amazed world, then saved and reused often for posterity; yet like our age of incessant selfies, all aspects of life, even that in a space station, can be recorded and shown online for all the world to see.
Two astronauts have spearheaded this new trend: one is Sam Cristoforetti. Taking to Twitter, she has posted a plethora of photographs regaling her followers with every day “normality” whilst hurtling around the Earth in zero gravity, from Tweeting her collection of tiny books on World Book Day in orbit, to giving a guided tour of the bathroom facilities, to making – and drinking – the first espresso in space.
Far from depicting the mundane attempts at trying to make a regular life out of hovering above your home planet for several months, Ms. Cristoforetti also Tweeted to the online community about the raft of experiments her tenure aboard the space station required her to do.
5. Chris Hadfield’s Space Oddity
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield went farther than his counterpart Ms. Cristoforetti by becoming the first celestial Internet sensation, from documenting crying tears in space, to Tweeting pictures of the beauty of the Blue Marble of Earth beneath him.
He eventually wowed the Earth, who would have gladly craned their necks up to witness him take the stage as he posted the most unique rendition of David Bowie’s classic hit “Space Oddity”. Complete with an orbiting Commander Hadfield strumming a guitar, showing us around the space station and throwing a great deal of breathtaking images of Earth below, the video racked up more than 20 million hits on You Tube. An amazing performance whilst constantly drifting in a void, it connected humanity to the far off outpost of the space station above Earth and allowed the work and lives of astronauts to become relatable.
4. Cool Engineering
The legendary Hubble Space Telescope, a byword for wonder that has permitted us to glimpse to the very hinterlands of creation, was actually faulty when first launched. The lens needed to be fixed to correct image blur, so in stepped NASA and their squad of uber cool astronauts, fixing the lens and maintaining upkeep to the very precious looking glass that allows us to gape and hurt our tiny minds at our own insignificance.
Furthermore, engineering works on the telescope that corrected the faulty lens was successfully adapted back here on Earth, too, being utilized as a vital screening method implemented by doctors to detect certain forms of cancer.
3. First Untethered Space Walk
Even for the hardiest astronaut, walking in space has to surely be one hell of a daunting prospect that would shake the strongest courage. So it’s only a matter of imagination and cold dread to most of us when considering the walk of Bruce McCandless as part of the Challenger Space Shuttle mission in 1984.
It occurred while testing out a suit designed for individual propulsion through space. He underwent the first space walk minus attachment to the shuttle for a total of 6 hours and 45 minutes. Floating alone so far in the black, away from a temporary home… guts don’t quite cover it!
2. Apollo 13
The unlucky number of the manned missions to the moon, Apollo 13 launched in April of 1970; an exploding oxygen tank destroyed the main command module, leaving only the landing lunar module to shelter the helpless astronauts of Jim Lovell’s crew on their journey home.
Abandoning the moon landing part of the mission, the crew of Apollo 13 lost contact with Houston as they passed around the Dark Side of the moon, only to reappear safely. Awesome far undersells the courage of these men so far from home with only the inhospitable moon, so placid and elegant from our vantage here on Earth, barring their return and the continuation of the astronaut’s lives.
1. Apollo 11
Topping the list is the astronaut feat that ranks alongside one of the greatest – if not the greatest – achievement in human history. On July 1969, the crew of Apollo 11, consisting of Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins, completed the first ever successful landing on our moon – by the human race at least!
They landed the Eagle Module upon the Lunar surface – with Michael Collins remaining within the command module orbiting our natural satellite. Meanwhile, Neil Armstrong alighted the Eagle Module and uttered the timeless words: “This is one small for a man, one giant leap for Mankind.”
It proved to be the first time any human on Earth had set foot on a surface other than the planet we are born, raised and die on. It stands, alongside the plaque and flagpole placed on the moon, as an immeasurable testament to the human spirit and endurance and what we as a race can set our minds to.
The Apollo 11 moon landing is set apart as a uniquely powerful event that changed us and although manned missions to the moon ended with Apollo 17 in 1972, Apollo 11 will always remain endearing and powerful to all of us as some countries (like China) prepare to go back.