Frank Borman only flew to space twice, but both flights were major milestones in the history of human spaceflight. In 1965, he and Jim Lovell flew for nearly 14 days aboard Gemini 7, proving that humans could function for long periods of time in the absence of gravity. Borman, Lovell and Bill Anders orbited the moon on Christmas Eve 1968 aboard Apollo 8 on the first human mission beyond low Earth orbit, an essential step toward the landing of Apollo 11 eight months later.
There was lesser known, but no less vital, mission that Borman undertook that was every bit as essential to the success of Project Apollo. The anniversary of a key event in that mission was earlier this month. Borman, who turned 94 last month, recounted the story in his autobiography, “Countdown.”
by Douglas Messier Managing Editor
On the last Friday in January 1967, Frank Borman took a break from a punishing schedule of traveling from Houston to Project Apollo contractors in Massachusetts and California to spend some quality time with his family. He took his wife, Susan, and their two sons to a cottage on a lake near Huntsville, Texas, owned by family friends. In the era cell phones, there were only landlines. Since the phone number at the cottage was unlisted, Borman was looking forward to two uninterrupted of relaxation.
Fewer than 25 suborbital spaceflights have ever been conducted
Most suborbital launches were conducted with vehicles retired decades ago
No suborbital flight has ever carried a paying passenger
There is no agreement on what even constitutes a suborbital spaceflight
by Douglas Messier Managing Editor
When Richard Branson and three Virgin Galactic employees strap into their seats aboard SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity on Sunday, they will briefly go where not very many have gone before: suborbital space.
Of the 374 attempts to launch astronauts to space since Yuri Gagarin flew into Earth orbit 60 years ago, only 23 were suborbital flights. The majority of those launches were conducted during the 1960’s using vehicles that long ago became museum pieces. One ended with the loss of the spacecraft and its pilot. And two flights were unintentional ones involving vehicles being launched into Earth orbit.
HOSUTON (NASA PR) — In 1961, the United States and the Soviet Union found themselves in a race to put the first human being into space. The United States initiated Project Mercury in 1958 to put the first American into space and selected its first group of astronauts in 1959 to begin training for that mission. The Soviets kept their plans secret but began their own human spaceflight program and selected their own team of 20 cosmonauts in 1960.
The Soviets won the race in April 1961 when cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin completed a single orbit around the Earth aboard his Vostok capsule. On May 5, 1961, Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space during a suborbital flight aboard his Mercury capsule named Freedom 7. Three weeks later, based on the success of Shepard’s brief flight, President John F. Kennedy committed the United States to achieving a lunar landing before the end of the decade.
The contrast was jarring. In one browser window, two NASA astronauts were making their way to the International Space Station (ISS) after the first orbital launch of a crew from U.S. soil in nearly 9 years.
In another window, scenes of chaos played out as protests over the death of George Floyd after his arrest by Minneapolis police erupted into violent clashes across the country.
Virgin Galactic pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “C.J.” Sturckow, who were awarded civilian astronaut wings last week, are among 18 pilots who have flown suborbital flights.
The two pilots flew SpaceShipTwo Unity to an altitude of 51.4 miles (82.72 km) on Dec. 13, 2018. That accomplishment qualified them for civilian astronaut wings using an American definition that places the boundary of space at 50 miles (80.46 km).
The National Defense Authorization Act passed by both houses of Congress calls for the construction of a memorial marker to the crew of Apollo 1 at Arlington National Cemetery. The measure awaits President Donald Trump’s signature.
The United States Army will lead the effort to create the memorial in consultation with NASA, the Commission of Fine Arts, and the Advisory Committee on Arlington National Cemetery.
Astronauts Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee were killed when a flash fire swept through their Apollo 1 command module during a practice countdown on Jan. 27, 1967. The astronauts had been scheduled to fly the first manned test of the spacecraft in Earth orbit the following month.
Grissom was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts who became the second American in space aboard Liberty Bell 7 and commanded Gemini 3, the first manned flight of that two-person spacecraft. White became the first American to walk in space during the Gemini 4 mission. Chaffee was scheduled to make his first spaceflight aboard Apollo 1.
The fire resulted in major overhaul of the troubled Apollo command module. The first manned flight of the Apollo program did not occur until October 1968, more than 20 months after the fire.
With Richard Branson once again predicting that Virgin Galactic will fly SpaeShipTwo into space before the end of the year, it seems like a good time to take a look at the history of suborbital spaceflight.
The number of manned suborbital flights varies depending upon the definition you use. The internationally recognized boundary is 100 km (62.1 miles), which is also known as the Karman line. The U.S. Air Force awarded astronaut wings to any pilot who exceeded 80.5 km (50 miles).
For nearly a dozen years, Virgin Galactic has used the number of individuals who have flown into space as a target to shoot for once the company began suborbital space tourism service. Virgin promised to double the number, which was around 500 when the company launched in 2004, within the first year of operation. That year was originally targeted for 2007 in the confident days after the success of SpaceShipOne.
That goal has long since faded away, and it’s unlikely Virgin will double the number of space travelers during the first year. In any event, the number of space travelers cited by Virgin has always been a bit misleading. The company’s well heeled customers, who are paying upwards of $250,000 per flight, will actually be joining a much more elite group on their suborbital flights.