More than 50 years ago, the United States created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA. Right away, the United States began competing against Russia to explore space in what was later called the ‘space race.’
Over the subsequent years of discovery and exploration, America remained at the forefront of space discovery with its brave astronauts leading the way. Many of these astronauts were among the few and the proud, gaining much of their expertise and courage from the time they served in the United States Marine Corps.
Marines, in fact, have proven to be pivotal figures in U.S. space exploration history since its inception. In 1962, an American spacecraft, Friendship 7, made space history with the first American orbital flight. The astronaut who piloted this historic flight was a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps, John H. Glenn, Jr., who had flown nearly 150 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War.
In 1968, the first manned mission in the American Apollo space program was commanded in part by a veteran Marine colonel, a fighter pilot named R. Walter Cunningham. Cunningham and two others manned the spacecraft in an orbit around the earth to check life-support, propulsion and control systems of the newly redesigned spacecraft.
In addition to these notable Marines, more than 20 others have played critical parts in the execution and advancement of U.S. space exploration missions. Marines have served in pivotal operations to orbit the earth, land on the moon, conduct necessary space experiments and advance space technology.
In recent history, Barack Obama, president of the United States, named retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden, Jr., the administrator of NASA. Bolden, a Marine aviator and test pilot who served for 36 years, logged more than 6,000 hours of flying time and conducted numerous test flights for new Marine aircraft during his career.
While Marines are known for showing their prowess on land, air and sea, Marines will continue to extend their reach beyond this atmosphere and into the unknown realm of space. Although the space shuttle program has come to an end, Marines, undoubtedly, will continue to be the frontrunners within NASA’s space exploration, while boldly going where no man has gone before.
By Lance Cpl. Chelsea Flowers