Today we will discuss some of Space Science’s Heroes (includes both he and she); though they may not be as popular as many astronauts but their work has been a guiding light for further development of space science.
John Houbolt: Advocate for Lunar Orbit Rendezvous
Initially, the great minds of American space science, including Wernher von Braun, favored a huge rocket and direct flight to get to the moon and back. They intended to send a vehicle the size of Atlas to the moon with absolutely zero help and land it backward. John Houbolt said, ‘It cannot be done.’
Instead, Houbolt proposed sending a craft up into space that would orbit the moon and include a smaller vehicle that could land there and return to the “mother ship.”
The Langley engineer had figures to back up his claims, but he encountered great resistance.
“It actually turned into a two-and-a-half-year fight to convince people, because they wouldn’t even listen to it,” commented Houbolt. ‘They wouldn’t even study it. They were so much against it. Why was there so much resistance to it? That’s a good question, and the only thing I can come up with is the syndrome of NIH (Not invented here)’
Houbolt eventually won, and Langley went on to build many of the tools that supported Houbolt’s idea, including the rendezvous docking simulator used in the Gemini and Apollo programs.
And, on July 20, 1969, the day men landed on the moon, where was John Houbolt? The Langley researcher who fought for lunar orbit rendezvous was in Houston — in Mission Control.
In 1959, Alan Shepard was selected as one of 110 military test pilots to join NASA. As one of the seven Mercury astronauts, Shepard was selected to be the first to go up on May 5th, 1961. Known as the Freedom 7 mission, this flight placed him into a suborbital flight around Earth. Unfortunately, Alan was beaten into space by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin by only a few weeks, and hence became the first American to go into space.
Shepard went on to lead other missions, including the Apollo 14 mission – which was the third mission to land on the Moon. While on the lunar surface, he was photographed playing a round of golf and hit two balls across the surface.
Nancy G. Roman: Pioneer of NASA’s Space Astronomy Program
Nancy Roman, the lady single-handedly ran NASA’s fledgling astronomy program.
Roman provided leadership for NASA’s first successful astronomical mission, the Orbiting Solar Observatory-1, launched in 1962. She then led the planning and oversaw the following missions:
- Geodetic satellites
- The three Orbiting Astronomical Observatories (including Copernicus, which gave astronomers their first opportunity to make long-term observations unimpeded by Earth’s atmosphere),
- The two Small Astronomical Satellites (which studied the sky with X-ray and gamma-ray telescopes),
- Three Orbiting Solar Observatories (which studied the sun and the solar wind), and
- The Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), along with astronomical observations with balloons.
From NASA’s infancy onward, Roman strongly advocated astronomer Lyman Spitzer’s concept for placing a large observatory in space, an idea that eventually became the Hubble Space Telescope.
She was most proud of her work on the International Ultraviolet Explorer. It was the first space observatory to be operated in real-time by astronomers using ground stations at Goddard Space Center.
In 1985, the IAU named an asteroid discovered at the Goethe Link Observatory, after Nancy Roman.