SPACE EXPLORATION MERIT BADGE
Pioneers of Space Travel
"The earth is the cradle of mankind - one cannot remain in the cradle forever"
-- Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
What to Put on Your Collector's Card
For our scouts, here's how I suggest to make up the card (of course, how you do it
is entirely up to you): Put a picture on the front (like the ones below -- you can
find others by doing an image search on Google). Then on the back put
- When they lived (year born - year died)
- Where they lived (nationality)
- Job (what they did for a living)
- Claim to fame (what did they do that was so special)
Working Out the Theory - Pioneer Scientists
To design and build a spacecraft, you need to be able to figure out how big to make
it, how heavy it can be, how fast it will have to go, how much fuel it needs and so
forth. For that, you need a theory of how objects move in space and how to make the
calculations. Almost all theory of space flight was worked out by three brilliant men
over a period of nearly three centuries - from 1600 to 1900.
Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630)
- was the German mathematician who, in 1609, figured out the equations for orbiting
planets & satellites - that they move in ellipses (flattened circles). He gave three
fundamental laws of planetary motion. His equations are used today for calculating
orbits for satellites and planets. He also did important work in optics and geometry.
Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727)
- English scientist and mathematician. in 1687 he wrote what is probably the single
greatest intellectual achievement of all time, establishing the basic laws of force,
motion, and gravitation and inventing a new branch of mathematics in the process
(calculus). He did all this to show how the force of gravity is the reason that
planet’s orbits follow Kepler’s equations.
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857 – 1935)
- a Russian school teacher with a scruffy beard who, without ever launching a single
rocket himself, figured out all the basic equations for rocketry in 1903. From his
very broad and extensive reading, including Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon”,
he concluded that space travel was a possibility, that it was in fact man’s destiny,
and that rockets would be the way to pull it off.
- He anticipated and solved many of the problems that were going to come up for rocket
powered flight and drew up several rocket designs. He determined that liquid fuel
rockets would be needed to get to space, and that the rockets would need to be built in
stages (he called them "rocket trains"). He concluded that oxygen and hydrogen would
be the most powerful fuels to use. He had predicted how, 65 years later, the Saturn V
rocket would operate for the first landing of men on the moon.
Building the First Rockets - Robert Goddard (1882-1945)
- An American who is now called "the father of modern rocketry"
- By contrast to Tsiolkovsky, Goddard was the man who designed, built, and flew the
rockets. He was a professor at Clarke University who also developed the theory of
rocketry and although he didn't know about Tsiolkovsky's work, reached the same
conclusions as Tsiolkovsky did. Goddard proved the theory was true.
- He was also heavily influenced by the science fiction of Jules Verne, and he worked
hard to develop rockets because he wanted to see them take us into space.
- When he first published his superbly written study, proposing that rockets could
possibly be used to travel to the moon, people thought he was a nut. In fact, the
criticism was so harsh, Goddard maintained a low profile and said little about his work
- In 1926 he launched the world’s first liquid fueled rocket. In the course of his
experiments in Massachusetts and Roswell, New Mexico, he virtually developed the entirety
of rocket technology.
- He invented everything required for modern rocketry and earned over 200 patents. By
himself he developed the same components and designs that took the Germans hundreds of
scientists and engineers and millions of dollars to develop independently at
Peenemunde during World War II.
Convincing the World - Hermann Oberth (1894-1989)
- Yet another one who, after reading Jules Verne’s "From Earth to the Moon" as a young
boy (age 11 in this case), became determined to find a way to travel space. He
independently determined the same rocketry principles as Tsiolkovsky and Goddard.
- The difference with Oberth, a German rocket scientist, is that in 1929 he published
"The Rocket Into Interplanetary Space", a highly influential book which was
internationally acclaimed and persuaded the world that the rocket was something to take
seriously as a space vehicle.
- Oberth was also Wernher Von Braun’s teacher, bringing him into the German rocket
- Of the three great rocketry pioneers, Oberth was the only one who lived to see men
travel through space and land on the moon.
Taking Man Into Space - Wernher Von Braun (1912 - 1977)
- Together with Oberth and an enormous team of scientists and engineers at
Peenemunde, he developed and launched the German V2 rocket, the first rocket capable
of reaching space.
- At the end of World War II, Von Braun led the top scientists and engineers out of
Germany to the Americans (he didn't want to be captured by the Russians).
- He led the US development of military and space exploration rockets. Von Braun was
crucial in the effort to convince the US government to pursue a landing of men on the
moon, and guided US efforts to success.
- He led the development of the Saturn rockets, the only series of rockets ever
developed to have worked perfectly on every launch (that is, never blew up on the pad).
If he hadn’t been so successful, we may never have made it to the moon.
Riding the Rockets - Pioneer Astronauts
First Man Into Space – Yuri Gagarin (1934 – 1968)
- On April 12, 1961, Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to
travel into space in Vostok 3KA-2 (Vostok 1).
- After the flight, Gagarin became an instant, worldwide celebrity, touring
widely to promote the Soviet achievement. He proved quite adept at handling the
- Like John Glenn, Gagarin was considered too valuable to his country to risk
in an another space flight, and was grounded from future space missions.
Gagarin eventually became deputy training director of Star City, the Russian
equivalent of Cape Kennedy and Johnson Space Center combined. At the same time,
he began to requalify as a fighter pilot. On March 27, 1968 he and his instructor
died in a MiG-15 UTI on a routine training flight near Kirzhach.
First American in Space – Alan Shepard (1923 – 1998)
- Shepard was one of the Mercury astronauts named by NASA in April 1959 to
Project Mercury, and he holds the distinction of being the first American to
journey into space, as well as the only Mercury astronaut to walk on the Moon.
- On May 5, 1961, in the Freedom 7 spacecraft, he was launched by a Redstone
rocket on a ballistic trajectory suborbital flight—a flight which carried him
to an altitude of 116 statute miles and to a landing point 302 statute miles
down the Atlantic Missile Range.
- He was originally assigned to command Apollo 13, but as it was felt he
needed more time to train, he and his crewmates (lunar module pilot Edgar
Mitchell and command module pilot Stuart Roosa) swapped missions with the
then crew of Apollo 14 (James Lovell, Ken Mattingly - who was himself replaced
by Jack Swigert shortly before the mission - and Fred Haise).
- At age 47, and the oldest astronaut in the program, Shepard made his second
space flight as commander of Apollo 14, January 31–February 9, 1971, man's third
successful lunar landing mission.
- Shepard is also remembered for being the only person to play golf on the Moon
with a Spalding six-iron head attached to a lunar sample scoop handle. His first
shot, which he duffed, only went a hundred feet, but his second shot, which he hit
squarely (with only one arm, as the bulkiness of his 21-layer spacesuit prevented
him from using both arms), sent the ball as he said "miles and miles."
First American in Orbit – John Glenn (1921 – )
- Flew as a fighter pilot for the Marines in World War II.
- In 1959 Glenn was assigned to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA) as one of the original group of Mercury astronauts for the Project Mercury.
During this time, he remained an officer in the Marine Corps. He piloted the first
American manned orbital mission aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962.
- After completing three orbits, the "Mercury Atlas 6" mission, lasting 4 hours,
55 minutes, and 23 seconds, Glenn was celebrated as a national hero, and received a
- Glenn lifted off for a second space flight on October 29, 1998, on Space Shuttle
Discovery's STS-95 in order to study the effects of space flight on the elderly. At
age 77, Glenn became the oldest person ever to go into space.
First Man on the Moon – Neil Armstrong (1930 – )
- Flew as a fighter pilot for the Navy in the Korean War.
- Flew X-1 and X-15 rocket planes for NASA as a test pilot.
- Flew the Gemini 8 program, testing out the concept of rendezvous and docking
in orbit (the first time this was ever accomplished). The success of this mission
was critical for NASA’s lunar landing plan.
- Flew as commander of the Apollo 11 mission, and became the first man to walk on
Second Man on the Moon – Buzz Aldrin (1930 – )
- Also flew as a fighter pilot for the Navy in the Korean War.
- He utilized revolutionary techniques during training for space walking during
the Gemini 12 mission, including neutrally-buoyant underwater training. Such techniques
are still used today. Aldrin set a record for extra-vehicular activity and proved that
astronauts could work outside the spacecraft. It was because of this that he has been
credited with 'Saving the space program'.
- Flew as the lunar module pilot for Apollo 11 and accompanied Neil Armstrong to the
surface of the moon. Became the second man to walk on the moon.
More History (nicely done) at
From Stargazers to Starships
Back to Space Exploration Home Page
Your questions and comments regarding this page are welcome.
You can e-mail Randy Culp for inquiries,
suggestions, new ideas or just to chat.
Updated 05 November 2006