Friday, July 22, 2011


            Yesterday, thousands of people packed the landing strip at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, anxiously awaiting the touchdown of space shuttle, Atlantis.  The landing drew cheers as well as tears since it brought with it an end to NASA’s longest running (thirty years) space flight program, a program that included space shuttles Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavor and Atlantis, America’s final shuttle.
            It was refreshing to see the attention paid to Atlantis by the media, especially since, as a country, our fascination with the space program has waned to some extent over the years.
            In the mid-fifties, at the height of the cold war, the U.S. was competing with the Soviet Union for domination in space exploration. Spurred on by the success of Sputnik, the first satellite to be launched into orbit (launched by the Soviets, no less), the American government was determined to be the winner in this race.
            To that end, schools across the country scrambled to comply with the dictum handed down: beef up our school science programs at every grade level!  Viewers were deluged with episodes of Outer Limits and Twilight Zone that dealt with “outer space” and movies with similar themes (ie. Invaders From Mars, The Day the Earth Stood Still) were plentiful. People were enthralled with astronauts, our new super-heroes.
            Yet over the years, our rapture seems to have abated; somewhere along the way, captivation turned into merely mild curiosity. A blasé public has pretty much taken astronauts for granted these days and has viewed their space missions as interesting but little more than that.
            Sad to say it often takes something as momentous as yesterday’s final shuttle landing or as tragic as the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, to remind us just how courageous these men and women are.
            A personal anecdote here: Years ago, when my son, Adam, was in kindergarten, he came home and asked if grandpas could walk on the moon. I smiled indulgently and told him as a rule, that didn’t happen. When asked why he wanted to know, he said, “Kaylie said her grandpa walked on the moon.” I asked who Kaylie was and Adam replied, “A new girl at school, Kaylie Armstrong. Somewhat humbled, I informed my son that Kaylie’s grandpa had, indeed, walked on the moon.
            As a tribute to the astronauts who helped to further our knowledge of the universe, I’m offering a little quiz.  I’ve listed 10 astronauts whose names are recalled for a particular reason. See if you can match the person with that which has made their names recognizable.

1.   Robert Lawrence          a.  First American to orbit the Earth.             
2.  Christa McAuliffe           b. First human to orbit the Earth.                                              
3.  Neil Armstrong              c.  Only person to fly in all of America's
                                               first three space programs (Mercury,
                                               Gemini, Apollo).
4.  Allan Shepard                d.  First American woman in space.
5.  Wally Schirra                 e.  First American in space.
6.  Sally Ride                       f.  This teacher was one of the seven
                                               crew members killed in the Space
                                               Challenger disaster.
7. Yuri Gagaren                   g.  Second man to walk on the moon
                                               (unfortunately, while memorable, it
                                               doesn't quite have the cache as
                                               having been the first).
8.  John Glenn                     h.  First African American astronaut.
9.  Lisa Nowak                    i.  Astronaut who gained notoriety
                                              when charged with the attempted
                                              kidnapping of another astronaut,
                                              a romantic rival (clue: remember
                                              the diaper?)
10. Buzz Aldren                  j.  First person to walk on the moon

Scroll down for the answers:

1h, 2f, 3j, 4e, 5c, 6d, 7b, 8a, 9i, 10.g

Have a great weekend and thank you for joining me on this week’s journey along



  1. Good quiz. I got most of them, but I'm from Huntsville, AL, and used to work in the aerospace industry. Everything stopped when there was a launch. We all gathered around a TV set and held our collective breath during the countdown. Then we cheered when it lifted off. It was an exciting time.

  2. Unless an earth-shattering insight speeds up the rate of advancement, I think most people understand that it is small increments for humankind. Because of the vast distances of space, we realize most of the good stuff won't happen in our lifetime. The culture has changed.