By Emily Carney
The 30-year-old Space Shuttle program is winding down to its end, scheduled for a last launch of the shuttle Atlantis in June. Sadly, NASA currently has few plans to extend space travel after the shuttle is phased out.
Given this bleak situation, a few loyal “space hipsters” on Blogger and Tumblr have put together some rather unique, often completely hilarious tributes which hearken back to the Good Old Days of Space Flight, specifically from 1961—beginning with the first Mercury missions—through the early days of the shuttle program.
Internet memes which originally were created about cats have now been carried over to legendary astronauts such as Gus Grissom, Alan Shepard, and John Young. Without further ado, here are five things you should probably familiarize yourself with if you’d like to acquaint yourself with the new fandom, the NASA Fandom.
Frank Borman is Serious Freaking Business.
Frank Borman was an astronaut who flew on Gemini 7 (1965) and Apollo 8 (1968). Besides being known as the original long duration space flight champ (he spent 14 days in a tiny Gemini capsule with Jim Lovell! 14 DAYS!) and being one of the first men to orbit the moon, Frank was also known for never, ever smiling in photos. Ever. The man was apparently a shot of straight up Serious Business, strident and harsh, imported from West Point and molded in the image of an old Army General.
I am almost positive in the few occasions he did smile in publicity photos, someone slipped him a Valium or some other nice, wholesome, sedating barbiturate. Frank later became the CEO of Eastern Airlines in the 1970s, and probably terrified flight attendants on a regular basis.
DID YOU KNOW?
Frank Borman’s nickname in high school was “square head.” He did have a rather square, fuzzy head. Just saying. Also, Frank and Buzz Aldrin were not friends. Nope, not even a little bit. They regularly exchanged disses about each other in various memoirs. If you ever meet Frank Borman, do not mention Buzz Aldrin.
John Young is just a little country boy from Orlando, y’all. He likes his cheese and bacon grits, just like everyone else.
John Young was the only astronaut to participate in the Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle programs. John piloted the first Gemini mission, orbited the moon, walked on the moon, and managed to command not just one but two successful shuttle missions. He even commanded the first space shuttle mission in 1981. These achievements are especially triumphant given that John Young grew up in Orlando, Florida, back in the days when it was considered “the country.”
Due to his meek geographic origins, John Young probably had the most hilarious American accent ever found in NASA. The best display of his shenanigans was on Apollo 16 (1972), when he used some, uh, colorful language to describe a case of gas he had (really, I would print it, but there are some rather bad curse words involved). Just Google “John Young orange juice.” You won’t be sorry. Granted, you should probably get a Florida-to-English translator to get the gist of what he’s saying.
DID YOU KNOW?
John Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich into space in 1965. Yes. He actually did this. Yes, he did get in trouble. Yes, there was even a congressional hearing about it. No, I doubt he is sorry about this. The man is an eternal rebel, what can I say? He should be Florida’s state bird. John Young is also quite popular with NASA fangirls, thanks to his country origins and expertly tousled hair in most of his pictures circa 1963 – 1981.
Pete Conrad is the John Wayne of Space Flight.
Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr. was a study in contradictions: He had an Ivy League education and was an extremely well-respected test pilot, all while being the astronaut most likely to be photographed with a goofy face doing something wholly inappropriate.
Pete was the kind of astronaut who truly lived the stereotypical “fighter jock” life, and made no apologies for it. He was known for cussing in flight simulators; allegedly, during his first round of psychological testing for astronaut tryouts (Pete tried to be part of the Mercury 7), he gave an explicit recounting of a sexual experience complete with bells and whistles to terrify the poor people interviewing him, just for shits and giggles. Unsurprisingly, Pete did not make the cut for this astronaut group.
Pete did, however, make it into the second astronaut group in 1962.
Pete is generally known in the NASA fandom for being the commander of Apollo 12, which is perhaps one of the best-loved moon missions. Pete, LEM pilot Alan Bean, and command module pilot Richard Gordon were an all-Navy crew and were best friends with matching Corvettes, and the mission was generally full of puppies, kittens, unicorns, rainbows, and other very cute, pleasant things. His untimely death in 1999 signaled the end of an lost era, and the man can never, ever be duplicated.
DID YOU KNOW?
Pete Conrad considered his career high point to be his space walk on Skylab 2. Skylab remains a very well-loved, if underrated, part of the NASA fandom. Mainly because those of us growing up in the late 1970s were terrified that Skylab was totally going to crash into our homes. Pete Conrad also did a very funny American Express commercial in the 1970s, complete with the tag line, “Do you know me? I walked on the moon!”
Chris Kraft will cut a bitch and not give two shits about it.
I don’t know much about Chris Kraft, other than that he was the flight director at NASA’s Mission Control in the 1960s. I do know that Chris Kraft is sort of crazy. Oh yes he is. In a 1965 Time magazine profile, he was described as having an “angry pride” about his job, emphasis on “angry.”
In 1962, Scott Carpenter flew a rather perilous Mercury mission; there was some doubt whether Carpenter would be able to reenter Earth successfully. Carpenter splashed down way off-target, but he was alive. In Gene Krantz’s great book, Failure Is Not An Option, Krantz describes Kraft as not even showing a bit of joy that Carpenter had made it back to Earth alive—evidently, Kraft had grimaced upon hearing the news Carpenter had arrived safely. Things got so bad between Carpenter and Kraft, eventually Carpenter had to write a book as a sort of rebuttal to Kraft’s book (Flight: My Life in Mission Control), which had contained a scathing indictment of Carpenter’s aeronautical skills.
Apollo 7 also felt The Wrath of Chris Kraft. In 1968, the crew of Apollo 7 developed bad head colds in space, and as a result, they became really bitchy, pissy, and crabby with the ground crew. Kraft was not amused at all; the crew never flew into space again. Here’s some advice: Your professional life will most likely be curtailed permanently if you piss off Chris Kraft. If Chris Kraft is managing the Burger King you work at, and you show up 30 seconds late, you will never work the fryer AGAIN. In the NASA fandom, Chris Kraft is regarded as being more terrifying than Frank Borman, which says a whole lot, really.
DID YOU KNOW?
Chris Kraft’s full name is Christopher Columbus Kraft. Really. WARNING: IF YOU EVER SEE HIM, DO NOT MAKE FUN OF HIS NAME.
Neil Armstrong is Forever Alone.
Even if you are new to the NASA fandom, I have no doubt that you know who Neil Armstrong is. Neil was the first man to walk on the moon; according to many of his colleagues, no one was more deserving of this honor, due to Neil’s competence as a pilot and his general lack of ego and arrogance. Sadly, there are only a few (I think five) pictures of Neil walking on the moon. We won’t get into that too much; you can probably guess why this was allowed to happen (cough, cough, Buzz Aldrin, cough cough . . . what? Did I write something . . . ?).
However, it bears mentioning that Neil perhaps could have developed his ego a little bit more, since he is somehow always by himself in most official photos taken of him. Decades before the movie Moon was developed as a commentary on the loneliness of mankind, Neil Armstrong was living it on Earth.
DID YOU KNOW?
Neil Armstrong almost became the first in-space casualty when Gemini 8 spun out of control due to a stuck thruster. Neil and fellow astronaut Dave Scott managed to save the day and reentered the Earth’s atmosphere without incident. This incident gained Neil much respect, and is probably why he became the first man to walk on the moon.
Six websites you should check out if you are interested in joining the NASA fandom: