Weird History
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Facts About Astronauts We Just Learned That Made Us Say 'Really?'

May 12, 2021 1.5k votes 304 voters 9.7k views12 items

List RulesVote up the facts about astronauts you find most surprising.

Hollywood has taught us that things can go very wrong in space, but even under ideal circumstances, being an astronaut is a tough job.

Astronauts undergo rigorous physical and mental training, and experience significant deprivations in space, such as being away from family, not having access to regular food and exercise, and a lack of gravity. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's moon landing in 1969 made international headlines and instilled fantasies of space travel in people around the world. Small children often dream of becoming astronauts, but in reality, less than 0.7% of NASA applicants are accepted into the program, and far less make it through the intense training process. Only the most elite pilots and scientists are selected by NASA, and even fewer actually travel in space. These stories and facts underscore just how difficult it is to be an astronaut; vote up the ones that shocked you!

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    John Glenn Became The Oldest Human In Space At 77

    John Glenn was the first person to orbit the Earth in 1962, and 26 years later, he made history again as the oldest person in space. Glenn flew combat missions with the US Marines during WWII and in the Korean War, represented Ohio in the US Senate for four consecutive terms, and went to space when he was 77 years old.

    Glenn's historic 1998 trip on the Space Shuttle Discovery focused on the aging process, a subject that Glenn made part of his work in the US Senate during his tenure. Glenn was monitored to see how geriatric astronauts would be affected in space, and if there was any difference from the younger people that had experienced time in zero gravity.

    Fascinating fact?
  • 6

    Michael Collins Was Only A Part Of The Apollo 11 Moon Landing Team Due To Spinal Fusion Surgery

    Astronauts are required to be in superb physical shape to participate in the program because of the toll traveling into space has on the human body. But sometimes a previously approved astronaut will face injuries that hold them back from missions, as was the case with astronaut Michael Collins.

    He was just 37 years old when he developed symptoms of cervical myelopathy, a compression of the neck and spine that is common among astronauts. Collins and other astronauts experienced rigorous physical training and wore heavy and sometimes unwieldy spacesuits, both of which most likely contributed to his injury. When the injury was first noticed, Collins was slated to join the Apollo 8 mission, but he was replaced by fellow astronaut James Lovell for the mission in which three men were the first to reach the moon. Just before the Apollo 8 launch, Collins had a spinal fusion surgery to fix his cervical myelopathy in the hopes that he would be able to be reassigned to future missions. Collins was cleared for takeoff on the historic Apollo 11 flight, in which he piloted the command module that brought his comrades Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong to the moon for those historic first steps.

    Fascinating fact?
  • Photo: / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 4.0

    The First Human In Space Didn’t Land With His Capsule Upon Reentry - He Jumped Out, Afraid It Would Kill Him

    Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space on April 12, 1961, when he orbited the Earth inside of his spacecraft, Vostok 1. Although the craft propelled Gagarin into space, he was not sure the craft would be able to slow down enough upon reentry for him to survive.

    To return safely, Gagarin ejected at 20,000 feet and parachuted back to Earth. Despite his inarguable achievement of being the first man in space, some claim that Gagarin's flight should not count because while he launched in his spacecraft, he did not technically land in it.

    Fascinating fact?
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    GM Used To Allow Astronauts To Lease Up To Two Chevys A Year For $1 Each

    The astronauts of Apollo 11 were known for their space mission that helped man step foot on the moon for the first time. And for many, this was such a moving and historic moment that companies started finding ways to honor and congratulate the astronauts in more creative ways.

    GM had already gifted astronaut Alan Shepard a Corvette after successfully becoming the first American in space in 1961, and the car company sought to retain that relationship with NASA. But because NASA is a government agency, they frowned upon accepting gifts from corporations, even for beloved national heroes. Jim Rathmann, a Chevy dealer who won the 1960 Indianapolis 500, convinced GM's president to offer all of NASA's astronauts a deal, providing them with up to two Chevy vehicles to lease for just $1 per year. This deal skirted the legality issues of gifting corporate gifts to government employees for endorsement just enough to squeak by, and GM continued the rental deal for astronauts for years, and many astronauts were seen driving Corvettes in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, most of the Apollo crews chose to lease one family-friendly vehicle as well as a Corvette.

    Fascinating fact?