Shuttling into Space

Completing a manned lunar landing and safe return to Earth on the first attempt was a huge achievement for NASA. But accomplishing the goal set by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 so successfully also contributed to the demise of the Apollo programme and the era of single-mission spacecraft. Political and public support for the huge investment the space programme required in the 1960s declined as fast as it had risen. Indeed, by 1969, several of the astronauts involved in America's pioneering space programmes had also departed for new career goals. The aborted flight of Apollo 13 in 1970, further budget restrictions and other domestic issues, all contributed to the end of the manned lunar programme in 1972, with the final flight of an Apollo-type spacecraft in 1975.

Most of the veteran astronauts between 1961 and 1975 were from the pilot groups and only four scientist-astronauts, all from the 1965 selection, flew in space in the first fifteen years following the Mercury Seven selection in 1959. With only Jack Schmitt assigned to an Apollo mission and three others (Joe Kerwin, Owen Garriott and Ed Gibson) to Skylab missions, the chances of a flight into space for the class of 1967 seemed no closer eight years later than it had when they had joined. The only opportunity they had was to tough out the long wait for the Space Shuttle that was planned to follow Apollo by the end of the 1970s. But, as the early test flights would probably be crewed by test pilots and not scientist-astronauts, the wait might even be as long as a further eight years. In fact, the first members of the 1967 group finally made it into space in 1982, some fifteen years after selection. Others had to wait until 1985, and some never achieved their dream at all.

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Think Big and Grow Rich in the Digital Age

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