Space Records

Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, M.D. (1942-) holds the record for the longest spaceflight duration. During 1994-1995, he spent 437.8 contiguous days in orbit, almost all of them aboard the Mir space station.

The largest number of people in space at the same time was thirteen, and this has happened four times.

The fastest humans have ever traveled (relative to Earth) occurred on May 26, 1969 when the Apollo 10 crew (Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Eugene Cernan) reached a speed of 24,791 mph—just 0.0037% the speed of light.

Both Jerry Ross and Franklin Chang Díaz hold the record for the most spaceflights. Both astronauts have gone into space seven times. Jerry Ross (STS-61-B, STS-27, STS-37, STS-55, STS-74, STS-88, STS-110) between November 26, 1985 and April 19, 2002 (Space Shuttle Atlantis: 5, Columbia: 1, Endeavour: 1), and Franklin Chang Díaz (STS-61-C, STS-34, STS-46, STS-60, STS-75, STS-91, STS-111) between January 12, 1986 and June 19, 2002 (Space Shuttle Columbia: 2, Atlantis: 2, Discovery: 2, Endeavour: 1). Both astronauts were mission specialists in the NASA Astronaut Group 9, announced May 29, 1980.

The farthest humans have ever been from Earth occurred at 0:21 UT on April 15, 1970 when the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft (Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert) executed a free-return trajectory to Earth. They were furthest from Earth above the lunar farside, 158 miles above the surface and 248,655 miles from Earth.

The youngest person ever to fly in space was Gherman Titov who was 25 years old during his solo Vostok 2 spaceflight on August 6, 1961. He was the second person to orbit the Earth.

The oldest person ever to fly in space was John Glenn who was 77 years old during his second spaceflight aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery STS-95 from October 29, 1998 to November 7, 1998. He was the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.

The longest spacewalk occurred on March 11, 2001 when James Voss and Susan Helms were outside the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-102) and the International Space Station for 8 hours and 56 minutes.

The longest moonwalk occurred on December 12-13, 1972 when Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent 7 hours and 37 minutes outside the lunar module on their second of three lunar excursions. All were longer than 7 hours. This was the final Apollo mission, and Gene Cernan, who died in 2017, is still the last person to walk on the surface of the Moon.

Saturn V

Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the inaugural flight of Wernher von Braun’s magnum opus, the giant Saturn V moon rocket.  This first flight was an unmanned mission, Apollo 4, and took place less than 10 months after the tragic launch pad fire that killed astronauts Gus Grissom, 40, Ed White, 36, and Roger Chaffee, 31.

Apollo 4 launch, November 9, 1967

Apollo 4 image of Earth at an altitude of 7,300 miles

The unmanned Apollo 4 mission was a complete success, paving the way for astronauts to go to the Moon.  After another successful unmanned test flight (Apollo 6), the Saturn V rocket carried the first astronauts into space on the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968.  On that mission, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders orbited the Moon for 20 hours and then returned safely to Earth.

Bill Anders took this iconic photo of Earth from Apollo 8 while in orbit around the Moon

“As of 2017, the Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful (highest total impulse) rocket ever brought to operational status, and holds records for the heaviest payload launched and largest payload capacity to low Earth orbit (LEO) of 140,000 kg (310,000 lb), which included the third stage and unburned propellant needed to send the Apollo Command/Service Module and Lunar Module to the Moon.  To date, the Saturn V remains the only launch vehicle to launch missions to carry humans beyond low Earth orbit.”

Reference (for quoted material above)
Wikipedia contributors, “Saturn V,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Saturn_V&oldid=808028027 (accessed November 9, 2017).

In the Shadow of the Moon

Every once in a while a really great documentary comes along.  In the Shadow of the Moon is one of them. This 2007 British film, which like most documentaries (unfortunately), had a very limited theater engagement, is now widely available for rental or purchase.

It is the remarkable story of the Apollo missions to the Moon, told eloquently by many of the astronauts who journeyed there: Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins (Apollo 11), Alan Bean (Apollo 12), Jim Lovell (Apollo 8 & 13), Edgar Mitchell (Apollo 14), David Scott (Apollo 9 & 15), John Young (Apollo 10 & 16), Charles Duke (Apollo 16), Eugene Cernan (Apollo 10 & 17), and Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17).  You certainly get the impression that not only are these guys personable and intelligent, but that they have aged well and still have much insight and wisdom to offer us about the past, present, and future.

The historical importance of this documentary cannot be overstated.  There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like hearing about the first (and still only) human missions to the Moon firsthand from the astronauts who journeyed there.  And, sadly, these pioneering astronauts are not going to be with us much longer. Most have already left us.  In the eleven years since this documentary was released, Edgar Mitchell, the last surviving member of the Apollo 14 crew, passed away in 2016, Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon, passed away in 2017, John Young, the longest-serving astronaut in NASA history, and Alan Bean, the last surviving member of the Apollo 12 crew, left us in 2018.  The six surviving Apollo astronauts who shared their stories with us in this film are all octogenarians and nonagenarians: Buzz Aldrin is 88, Michael Collins is 87, Jim Lovell is 90, David Scott is 85, Charles Duke is 82, and Harrison Schmitt is 82.

This is a story that needed to be told by those who can tell it best.  There is no narrator, nor is there any need for one.  Kudos to directors David Sington & Christopher Riley, producers Duncan Copp, Christopher Riley, Sarah Kinsella, John Battsek, & Julie Goldman, and  composer Philip Sheppard for making this a film of lasting cultural significance, a film that will be admired and appreciated a hundred-plus years from now.