Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff
Launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969
Before it was a movie, it was a book—just like the Bible. Only in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff the conclusion is not foreordained. The test pilots who volunteered, in both the U.S. and Russia, were never guaranteed a safe return to their comfortable warm beds. Frequently, all too frequently, they met with violent death; it was the quid pro quo for those who pursued “pushing the envelope” of high performance aircraft. Of course, the next step on their flying resume was to fly in space. Being the first man in space, or later, the first man on the moon, was even more icing on the cake.
The space programs of both Russia and the United States highlighted spectacular flights involving pilots, even though several scientists believed that each nation could attain nearly all the objectives of their respective space programs without jeopardizing lives. Vostok, Voskhod, Soyuz, and Salyut were components of the Russian program; Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab were components in the U.S. program, the pinnacle of which was achieved on July 20, 1969 when Apollo 11’s lunar module Eagle landed on the surface of the moon.
Below is a short summarized list of the men and machines (and one woman!) that went into space, from the selection of the first Vostok and Mercury missions till the final Apollo flight, which incidentally, carried the last of the “Right Stuff” Mercury Seven astronauts on his only mission. In a sense, what began with Gagarin ended with Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton’s handshake with his fellow orbiting Russian cosmonauts.
4/12/61 Vostok 1 (1 hr. 48 min.) Yuri A. Gagarin using a Vostok-K rocket achieves the first human spaceflight and completes 1 orbit.
5/5/61 Mercury 3 (15 min.) Alan B. Shepard Jr.
takes a suborbital flight using a Redstone rocket.
7/21/61 Mercury 4 (16 min.) Virgil “Gus”
Grissom duplicates Shepard’s suborbital flight.
8/6/61 Vostok 2 (1 day 1 hr. 18 min.) Gherman S. Titov makes the first multi-orbit flight completing 17 orbits.
2/20/62 Mercury 6 (5 hrs. 55 min.) John K.
Glenn atop an Atlas LV-3B rocket completes
America’s first orbital flight and splashes down after
5/24/62 Mercury 7 (4 hrs. 56 min.) M. Scott
Carpenter duplicates Glenn’s 3 orbits.
8/11/62 Vostok 3 (3 days 22 hrs. 24 min.) Andriyan G. Nikolayev orbits 64 times and lands by parachute.
8/12/62 Vostok 4 (2 days 22 hrs. 57 min.) Pavel R. Popovich takes part in a dual mission with Vostok and completes 48 orbits.
10/3/62 Mercury 8 (9 hrs. 13 min.) Walter Schirra
completes 6 orbits.
5/15/63 Mercury 9 (1 day 10 hrs. 20 min.) Gordon
Cooper in the last Mercury flight achieves 22 orbits.
6/14/63 Vostok 5 (4 days 23 hrs. 6 min.) V. Bykovsky in a dual mission flies 81 orbits.
6/16/63 Vostok 6 (2 days 22 hrs. 50 min.) Valentina V. Tereshkova, the first woman cosmonaut, orbits in her dual mission with Vostok 5.
10/12/64 Voskhod 1 (1 day 17 min.) Vladimir M. Komarov with comrades Konstantin P. Feoktistov and Boris B. Yegorov atop their Voskhod 11A57 rocket become the first multi-human crew; the three cosmonauts complete 16 orbits.
3/18/65 Voskhod 2 (1 day 2 hrs.) P. Belyayev and A. Leonov, become the first to perform extravehicular activity (EVA) when Leonov floats free in space for 20 min. while tethered to the capsule; they complete 17 orbits.
3/23/65 Gemini 3 (4 hrs. 53 min.) Virgil “Gus”
Grissom and John Young ride their Titan II GLV
rocket and become the first American multi-person
crew; they complete 3 orbits.
6/3/65 Gemini 4 (4 days 1 hr. 56 min.) James
McDivitt and Edward H. White II complete 62 orbits;
White becomes the first American to EVA and the first
ever to use a personal propulsion unit.
8/21/65 Gemini 5 (7 days 22 hrs. 56 min.) Gordon
Cooper and Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr. complete 120
orbits, demonstrating the feasibility of a lunar mission
including a simulated rendezvous.
12/4/65 Gemini 7 (13 days 18 hrs. 35 min.) Frank
Borman and James Lovell complete 206 orbits in a test
of long term space endurance; they also serve as a
target for the first rendezvous.
12/16/65 Gemini 6A (1 day 1 hr. 51 min.) Walter
Schirra and Thomas Stafford complete 15 orbits and
rendezvous with Gemini 7.
3/16/66 Gemini 8 (10 hrs. 42 min.) Neil Armstrong and
David Scott complete 6.5 orbits; this was the first dual
launch and docking, but it was cut short by an
emergency landing in the Pacific when the Gemini
capsule maneuvering rocket misfired.
6/3/66 Gemini 9A (3 days 21 min.) Thomas Stafford and
Eugene Cernan complete 44 orbits but were unable to
dock with their target vehicle; Cernan completes 2 hrs.
7 min. of EVA.
7/18/66 Gemini 10 (2 days 22 hrs. 47 min.) John Young
and Michael Collins complete 43 orbits, and accomplish
the first dual rendezvous and docking maneuvers;
Collins performs an umbilical EVA.
9/12/66 Gemini 11 (2 days 23 hrs. 17 min.) Charles
“Pete” Conrad Jr. and Richard Gordon Jr. complete
44 orbits, rendezvous, and dock.
11/11/66 Gemini 12 (3 days 22 hrs. 34 min.) James
Lovell and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. complete 59 orbits
in the final Gemini mission; Aldrin performs 5 hours
4/23/67 Soyuz 1 (1 day 2 hrs. 48 min.) Vladimir M. Komarov completes 18 orbits but is killed when his parachute fails; this is the first fatality of the space program.*
10/11/68 Apollo 7 (10 days 20 hrs. 8 min.) Walter
Schirra, Donn Eisele, and Walter Cunningham launch
atop their Saturn 1B rocket, perform 8 service
propulsion firings, 7 live TV sessions with the
ground, and rendezvous with the S-IVB stage.
10/26/68 Soyuz 3 (3 days 22 hrs. 51 min.) G. Beregovoi orbits 64 times and approaches to within 198 m. of the unmanned Soyuz 2.
12/21/68 Apollo 8 (6 days 3 hrs.) Frank Borman,
James Lovell, and William Anders become the first
humans to break the bonds of Earth's gravity when
they are propelled atop their Saturn V rocket in the
first lunar orbital mission. They complete 10 orbits,
and return photographs of potential future lunar
1/14/69 Soyuz 4 (2 days 23 hrs. 14 min.) V. Shatalov completes 48 orbits, and docks with Soyuz 5 in the first linkup of two space vehicles both of which carry people.
1/15/69 Soyuz 5 (3 days 46 min.) B. Volynov assists as A. Yeliseyev and Y. Khrunov perform EVA, and transfer to Soyuz 4 in rescue rehearsal.
3/3/69 Apollo 9 (10 days 1 hr. 1 min.) James
McDivitt, David Scott, and Russell Schweickart flight
test all the lunar hardware in Earth orbit, including
the lunar module (LM) code named “Spider.” Their
Command and Service Module (CSM) is code named
5/18/69 Apollo 10 (8 days 3 min.) Thomas Stafford,
John Young, and Eugene Cernan operate a Lunar
mission development flight to evaluate the LM
performance in the lunar environment; Stafford
and Cernan descend their LM Snoopy to within
15,250 meters of the Moon before returning to John
Young in the CSM Charlie Brown.
7/16/69 Apollo 11 (6 days 21 hrs. 18 min.) Neil
Armstrong, Michael Collins (who remains behind in
the CSM Columbia), and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr.
accomplish the first lunar landing (July 20);
they make a limited inspection of the surface,
photograph themselves, evaluate and sample the
lunar soil, and plant the American flag.
10/11/69 Soyuz 6 (4 days 22 hrs. 42 min.) G. Shonin and V. Kubasov take part in the first triple launch (with Soyuz 7 and 8).
10/12/69 Soyuz 7 (4 days 22 hrs. 41 min.) A. Filipchenko, V. Volkov, and V. Gorbatko conduct, with Soyuz 6 and 8, experiments in navigation and photography.
10/13/69 Soyuz 8 (4 days 22 hrs. 59 min.) V. Shatalov and A. Yeliseyev complete 80 orbits.
11/14/69 Apollo 12 (10 days 4 hrs. 36 min.) Charles
“Pete” Conrad Jr., Richard Gordon Jr., and Alan
Bean achieve second lunar landing, demonstrate
pinpoint landing capability next to a previous lunar
probe, and sample more of the lunar surface.
4/11/70 Apollo 13 (5 days 22 hrs. 55 min.) James
Lovell, John Swigert Jr., and Fred Haise Jr. attempt
the third lunar landing, but abort due to an
explosion that causes a loss of pressure in the liquid
oxygen tank of the service module and a fuel cell
failure. Their adventure makes a very good movie
Soyuz 9 (17 days 16 hrs. 59 min.) A. Nikolayev
and V. Sevastyanov accomplish the longest
spaceflight to date.
1/31/71 Apollo 14 (9 days 42 min.) Alan Shepard,
Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell fly the third lunar
landing and return 44.45 kgs. of material. Shepard
hits a golf ball on the moon.
4/23/71 Soyuz 10 (1 day 23 hrs. 46 min.) V. Shatalov, A. Yeliseyev, and N. Rukavishnikov dock with Salyut 1, the first space station, but are unable to enter it.
6/6/71 Soyuz 11 (23 days 18 hrs. 22 min.) G. Dobrovolsky, V. Volkov, and V. Patsayev dock with Salyut 1 space station but die during reentry due to a loss of cabin pressure in orbit.
7/26/71 Apollo 15 (12 days 7 hrs. 12 min.) David
Scott, Alfred Worden, and James Irwin accomplish
fourth lunar landing; they are the first to use the
Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) “moon buggy.”
4/16/72 Apollo 16 (11 days 14 hrs. 51 min.) John
Young, Ken Mattingly, and Charles Duke Jr. achieve
the fifth lunar landing, carry the second LRV, and
return 96.6 kgs. of material.
12/7/72 Apollo 17 (12 days 13 hrs. 52 min.) Eugene
Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Harrison Schmitt succeed
in the last manned lunar landing; they bring the third
LRV and have a total EVA time of 44 hrs. 8 min.
before returning to Earth with 110.2 kg. of material.
5/25/73 Skylab 2 (28 days 49 min.) Charles “Pete”
Conrad Jr., Joseph Kerwin, and Paul Weitz take
part in the first Skylab launch atop their Saturn 1B
rocket, enter the Skylab Orbital Assembly—the first
American space station—and conduct medical and
other experiments. Spacewalks are required to repair
the heat shielding that was damaged during launch.
7/29/73 Skylab 3 (59 days 11 hrs. 9 min.) Alan Bean,
Owen Garriott, and Jack Lousma are the second
Skylab crew; they perform systems and operational
tests and deploy thermal shield.
9/27/73 Soyuz 12 (1 day 23 hrs. 16 min.) V. Lazarev and O. Makarov take part in the first Russian spaceflight to carry humans since the Soyuz 11 tragedy.
11/16/73 Skylab 4 (84 days 1 hr. 7 min.) Gerald P.
Carr, Edward G. Gibson, and William R. Pogue service
the unmanned Saturn workshop, and obtain medical
data for extending spaceflights.
Soyuz 13 (7 days 20 hrs. 55 min.) P. Klimuk
and V. Lebedev perform astrophysical and
7/3/74 Soyuz 14 (15 days 17 hrs. 30 min.) P. Popovich and Y. Artyukhin occupy the Salyut 3 space station and study Earth resources.
8/26/74 Soyuz 15 (2 days 12 min.) G. Sarafanov and L. Dyomin make an ultimately futile attempt to dock with Salyut 3.
12/2/74 Soyuz 16 (5 days 22 hrs. 24 min.) A. Filipchenko and N. Rukavishnikov check modifications to the Salyut systems.
1/10/75 Soyuz 17 (29 days 13 hrs. 20 min.) A. Gubarev and G. Grechko dock with Salyut 4 and set Russian endurance record.
4/5/75 Soyuz 18A (22 min.) V. Lazarev and O. Makarov’s spacecraft fails to separate from its booster, and the craft cannot reach orbit, but the crew successfully lands in western Siberia.
5/24/75 Soyuz 18B (63 days) P. Klimuk and V. Sevastyanov dock with Salyut 4.
7/15/75 ASTP (9 days 1 hr. 30 min.) 7/15/75 Soyuz 19 (5 days 23 hrs. 31 min.)
This mission features the docking of the ASTP, the U.S. Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand, and Donald “Deke” Slayton), and Soyuz 19 (A. Leonov and V. Kubasov) in a cooperative U.S.-Russian mission. Stafford and Slayton shake hands with Leonov and Kubasov in the heavens!
* On January 27, 1967, Grissom, White, and Roger B. Chaffee died in a capsule fire while they were conducting ground tests, but Komarov died in an actual flight.