History of the American Aviator – Part 7 – The Astronaut

With Korean War smoke settling and the Cold War ramping up, space and the travel to-and-from became a new frontier of exploration and research. Although by today’s definitions there is a clear difference between an “aviator” and an “astronaut,” one could say the only thing that separates the two breeds of pilot is a little bit of air.

US-NASA-SealWith a looming threat to national security, science fiction started becoming reality in America with the formation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); the later having a distinct civilian priority.Photo Source: Wikipedia

The_Mercury_Seven_Astronauts

The Mercury Seven Astronauts

With these new projects came the need for a new breed of aviator – One crazy enough to reach for the stars. In 1959 NASA selected its first candidates for astronaut training from a list of 110 recommended military test pilots. After an extreme selection process, NASA unveiled its “Mercury Seven” – the Nation’s first astronauts. Of these, Alan Shepard became the first American in space (May 5, 1961), and John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth (Feb 20, 1962) in his Mercury Friendship 7 spacecraft. Soon to follow was the Apollo space program and Neil Armstrong, a former naval test pilot and aeronautical engineer, who was the first to walk on the moon.Photo Source:WikipediaSource:Wikipedia

John-Glenn

John Glenn from his Friendship 7

While the 1960’s and all of its historical underpinnings saw the dawning of U.S. spaceflight, closer to the ground, the decade had many aeronautical highlights. Notable aircraft platforms, many still active today, began in the 60’s – Platforms like Boeing’s 737.

While the Cold War was drawing the U.S. up into a space race, communist aggression was drawing her into another regional conflict in Southeast Asia – Vietnam.

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