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Space race I am
May 5, 2010 6:50 AM   Subscribe

Forty-nine years ago, Alan Shepard literally got his 15 minutes of fame by becoming the second person and first American to go into space.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (23 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sub-orbital though.
posted by Artw at 6:56 AM on May 5, 2010


"Sub-orbital," hell! This guy got into a closet on top of a pile of explosives and was shot into space. That deserves a hats off for sheer bravery (if not for self-preservation).

Hurrah, sir! Hurrah!
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:07 AM on May 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


Artw: Sub-orbital though.

Yeah, that was my thought. Gagarin made one orbit around the Earth - his flight lasted something like 90 minutes. No doubt he was a spaceman. Shepard's flght was ballistic and covered 300 miles - not quite the same thing as being in orbit - but 11g on the decent must have made it one hell of a ride.
posted by three blind mice at 7:07 AM on May 5, 2010


There's something vary appropriate about making a post about the second man in space on the forty ninth anniversary of the flight.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:09 AM on May 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


And very appropriate, too.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:10 AM on May 5, 2010


I love the "global" positioning system on Gagarin's control panel.
posted by DU at 7:11 AM on May 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Alan Shepard was awesome. He was known to be a bit moody at best, and kind of a dick at worst, but he was awesome. A lot of people think the Apollo astronauts all went up with golf bags and played a few rounds, or that Neil Armstrong was the guy who hit golf balls on the moon, but it was actually Alan Shepard who smuggled the head of a six iron and three golf balls on Apollo 14. He attached the six iron to a sampling instrument and smacked the three balls as best he could with one hand. (Transcript)

Hitting golf balls on the moon is an act of sheer genius. I hope at least one of those balls gets returned to Earth, or at least photographed again, in my lifetime.

Suborbital, my ass. The guy went on to hit golf balls on the Moon. Alan Shepard was awesome.
posted by bondcliff at 7:12 AM on May 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


GenjiandProust: ""Sub-orbital," hell! This guy got into a closet on top of a pile of explosives and was shot into space. That deserves a hats off for sheer bravery (if not for self-preservation).

Hurrah, sir! Hurrah!
"

Hear hear! The guy had major stones.

Not kidney stones, though.
posted by bwg at 7:13 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Russians actually sent other cosmonauts into space before Yuri Gagarin. They just weren't able to bring them back.

Not to be too pedantic, but this means that Shepard was not actually the second man in space. He was the second man to return from space.
posted by pjdoland at 7:13 AM on May 5, 2010


With a length of 9.5 feet and a base diameter of 6.5 feet, the vehicle was less than commodius. The fit was so tight that it would not be inaccurate to say that the astronaut wore the vehicle.

I think I smell Imipolex G.
posted by The Mouthchew at 7:15 AM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


pjdoland: The Russians actually sent other cosmonauts into space before Yuri Gagarin. They just weren't able to bring them back.

That link doesn't say that. There is no conclusive, or widely accepted, evidence that any attempt was made to send a cosmonaut into orbit before Gagarin.
posted by nfg at 7:36 AM on May 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's a fun crazy conspiracy theory, and the Russians were callous and sneaky bastards, so that lends it some credibility. On the other hand, it's a conspiracy theory out of Russia, land of the bullshit conspiracy theory.
posted by Artw at 7:39 AM on May 5, 2010


If you ever get the chance, go to the Air and Space Museum in DC and take a look at the old spacecraft they have on display. Check out the cloth-covered wires and barrier terminal strips. Your bicycle is higher tech. I wouldn't cross the street in one of them, let alone go into space. Alan Shepard had the Right Stuff, no doubt.
posted by tommasz at 7:51 AM on May 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I went to the Kennedy space center last month and took the tour that went to all the early launch pads and control rooms. It was amazing how primitive all that technology looked from a 21st century perspective. Everything was analog, and what little computers they had were programmed to a large extent by moving jumper wires around. And all the equipment had built-in ashtrays! Although it definitely took some balls to get on top of that Mercury-Redstone rocket (essentially a modified V-2--1940's technology), less than 10 year later they were using Saturn-Vs whose first stage alone dwarfs the Redstone.

And despite all the effort and consternation going on in the early days of the space race, it appears that we have let the Russians win it in the long run.
posted by TedW at 8:05 AM on May 5, 2010


On the other hand, it's a conspiracy theory out of Russia, land of the bullshit conspiracy theory.

And note that after the fall of the USSR, we were able to get data on such things as the N1 Moon Rocket (which blew up every time they tried to launch it) and on KAL 007 -- including the FDR and CVR themselves. Much of the mystery of the USSR space program, including things like the Nedelin Disaster, came out at the end of the Soviet Union.

If the Soviets were going to truly destroy all evidence of something, it would have been the KAL 007 shoot down evidence, where it was very clear that the USSR knew that it was shooting down an passenger aircraft, and that they'd probably done so in international airspace. Yet, they saved the recordings from the interception, the black boxes they'd recovered -- everything that proved that they'd screwed up and splashed an airliner.

If they were willing to confess to that, the lost astronauts would have been far easier to release -- esp. after the already announced Soyuz 1 and Soyuz 11 missions, which, between them, lost four cosmonauts.

So, yeah, I can't really buy the conspiracy theory, given what the Russians have admitted to after the fall.
posted by eriko at 8:27 AM on May 5, 2010


Plus it fucks with my Alt. History story where Gagarin gets mind powers from all the Kirby radiation in space.
posted by Artw at 8:41 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


My earlier post was meant to be read in the manner of Cliff Clavin.
posted by pjdoland at 8:45 AM on May 5, 2010


If you ever get the chance, go to the Air and Space Museum in DC and take a look at the old spacecraft they have on display. Check out the cloth-covered wires and barrier terminal strips. Your bicycle is higher tech. I wouldn't cross the street in one of them, let alone go into space. Alan Shepard had the Right Stuff, no doubt.

Yep, I was there last week, and I nearly crapped my pants looking into that capsule and imagining what it would be like sitting in there alone while floating around in space. It's kind of like rolling down a hill in a barrel, except with a joystick, and in outer space.

Also impressive was an old motorbike that looked like a V8 strapped onto a $24.99 red K-mart special, complete with knobby tires, that apparently set a record at 120 mph.
posted by Dr. Send at 9:36 AM on May 5, 2010


They would have sent a dog, but that would have been too cruel.
-- José Jiménez
posted by squalor at 9:43 AM on May 5, 2010


They would have sent a dog

RIP Laika.
posted by Zed at 9:50 AM on May 5, 2010


"Don't fuck up, Shepard."

Words that (after being mis-quoted) became known as the Shepard's Prayer.

Alan Shepard was a badass.

Also impressive was an old motorbike that looked like a V8 strapped onto a $24.99 red K-mart special, complete with knobby tires, that apparently set a record at 120 mph

The Widowmaker?
posted by rhythim at 10:20 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bang, zoom!
posted by stormpooper at 11:37 AM on May 5, 2010


The Russians have also admitted what happened to poor Valentin Bondarenko, which didn't come out in the west until years later. He was airbrushed from photos, along with other cosmonauts like Grigori Nelyubov, who was dismissed for bad behavior before he got a chance to fly. These sorts of things lend themselves to the persistent belief in lost cosmonauts. My opinion on this is pretty much "Yeah, maybe. But probably not."

And yes, Alan Shepherd was a badass. He stuck around the space program despite being grounded for years and kicked even more ass as commander of Apollo 14. The man had gigantic balls.
posted by futureisunwritten at 3:54 PM on May 5, 2010


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