2023 Author: Seth Attwood | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-24 11:30
As history shows, a rare breakthrough of mankind in one area or another goes without sacrifices. And in the course of the lunar race, there were a hell of a lot of victims.
Half a century ago, NASA was feverishly preparing to land on the moon in a race against the USSR. As we know, America ultimately came out the winner, however, the States paid dearly for that victory, and it's not just about money. Astronauts, NASA ground crews and workers, dozens of test pilots - many of them died before Neil Armstrong took that very step across the dusty surface of Earth's satellite.
The test pilots were the first to open an account. Howard Lilly was the first NASA engineer pilot and the fourth person to break the sound barrier in the skies over the Mojave Desert in California. But on May 3, 1948, the compressor of his Douglas D-558-1 engine failed and the plane crashed. Lily was the first NASA pilot to die in the line of duty.
A month later, Captain Glen Edwards and four crew members died during the Flying Wing test, after which the airbase in California was renamed Edwards Air Force Base. During 1952, seven more test pilots died each month from Edwards for testing.
By the time the space program was launched in the early 1960s, many of NASA's test pilots had joined the astronaut corps. Others joined the squad, combining piloting experience and science education. For example, Neil Armstrong, whose first trip into space almost ended in disaster.
Following a critical glitch aboard, Armstrong and pilot David Scott began spinning out of control in space. Fighting the loss of consciousness with all his might, Armstrong eventually regained control and landed safely.
Astronauts Neil Armstrong and David Scott await the arrival of the rescue craft following the successful but urgent completion of their Gemini 8 mission
Theodore Freeman, member of the first Apollo team of 14 astronauts, died in October 1964 when a flock of geese hit the engine of his T-38 trainer near Houston. In February 1966, astronauts Eliot C. and Charles Bassett crashed during bad weather on their way to Lambert Field in St. Louis.
The worst catastrophe occurred when the Apollo 1 astronauts hadn't even lifted off the ground. Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died in a cockpit fire on January 27, 1967 during prelaunch tests at Kennedy Space Center.
The Apollo 1 command module after a fire that killed the astronaut crew. This happened during normal training.
In the aftermath of that accident, NASA faced opposition from Congress and the public, with pressure from all sides. Everyone doubted whether the mission to the moon was worth both the human sacrifice and the money invested. Congress focused on investigating the causes of the Apollo 1 fire, while civil rights leader Reverend James Abernathy led a growing public outcry against funding the space program.
By the time Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins prepared for the Apollo 11 program in July 1969, both astronauts and NASA engineers were confident that the mission would still be a success.
According to Tizel Muir-Harmony, curator of the Apollo collection at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, this has been backed up by countless reports and long trials with one single goal: to ensure the safe return of astronauts home.