Several famous faces define milestones in the history of space travel. Others are less known, but still stand out as exceptional individuals in the history of humanity’s efforts to explore the universe beyond our home planet. Here are five lesser-known but important pioneers in the history of space travel.
Robert H. Goddard
An American engineer and physicist, Goddard is famous for having built the first ever liquid-fueled rocket. When he actually launched one in 1926, he sparked off the age of space flight. His influential theories would be the basis for modern rocket science, although his work received little support among the public initially. At the time, he was widely mocked for theorizing the possibility of spaceflight. Although he never lived to see man launch into space, he became regarded as a genius pioneer in rocketry.
One of the “Mercury Seven” chosen by NASA in 1959 to fly the Project Mercury Spacecraft, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. He is also the fifth person in the world to go to space, and is the last living member of the Seven. Given his charismatic flair, NASA deemed him the astronaut most suited to a life of public service. He served as Senator of Ohio from 1974 to 1999 and has been married to his wife Annie for 73 years.
Along with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Collins was part of the Apollo 11 mission which successfully landed man on the moon in 1969. Although he never left the lunar module, he was responsible for keeping the spacecraft in orbit around the moon during the mission. He became Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs upon his return to Earth, at the request of President Nixon. He continues to serve as a non-official ambassador for NASA’s efforts, and his autobiography is said to be the most authentic account of the realities of life as an astronaut.
In 1963, Tereshkova became the first woman to fly into space. Before her career in the Soviet space program, she worked in a textile factory and was a keen skydiver. She spent three days in space and orbited the Earth 48 times. She proved herself capable of withstanding the physical challenges of space travel despite her lack of military background, and returned to Earth a national hero. In 2013, at the age of 76, she publicly stated her interest in a one-way trip to Mars if it were offered.
Mae C. Jemison
During her studies, Jemison struggled to decide between her passions for science and dancing, and in the end opted for a career in medicine. In 1987, she was selected to join NASA’s astronaut corps and in 1992 became the first African-American woman to go to space. Her scientific background was an asset to the mission, and she studied the effects of weightlessness and bone structure of herself and her crewmates. She combined her passions when she danced in zero gravity on the space shuttle, and even later guest starred on Star Trek, one of her favorite shows. As the Space Shuttle Endeavour rose above Earth, she remarked that the first thing she saw from space was her hometown of Chicago.
Space travel is made possible by the amazing achievements of individuals such as these. All accomplished great things in their fields through sheer determination and ambition, and continue to inspire people interested in space travel today.