AFIT linked to past, future of America's space program|
7/7/2006 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio (AFPN) -- The Air Force Institute of Technology, or AFIT, has long been involved with America's efforts in space. Its association began with the early test flights of the high-altitude research aircraft, the X-15, and has continued to NASA's "Return to Flight" Discovery space shuttle launch July 4.
Col. Steve Lindsey, commander of the Discovery STS-121 mission, is a 1990 graduate of the AFIT aeronautical engineering program. Mission specialist Col. Mike Fossum is a 1981 graduate of the AFIT systems engineering program, and will perform a space walk during the mission.
The two graduates will be carrying AFIT memorabilia into space with them, according to Robert Calico, AFIT's director of academic affairs and previous academic adviser to Colonel Lindsey. This mission is Colonel Lindsey's fourth flight, including being the pilot on the Discovery mission in 1998 with John Glenn. It is Colonel Fossum's first flight.
Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, a 1923 AFIT alumnus, predicted in 1958 that America would accomplish many achievements in space before the end of the century. When he made his prediction, the U.S. had just sent up its first satellite, Explorer l. At the same time manned space flight was already being planned.
In April 1959, the government announced the names of the first Americans selected to attempt space flight as part of the Project Mercury program. Of the three Air Force pilots, two were 1956 AFIT graduates -- Capt. Leroy "Gordon" Cooper and Capt. Virgil "Gus" Grissom.
On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard was America's first man in space. Captain Grissom entered the record books the same year as No. 2. Three more Mercury flights followed. Captain Cooper, piloting the last Mercury flight, made a record-breaking orbital flight of more than 34 hours.
In 1962, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced the names of nine astronauts for its Gemini program. This time there were four Air Force members, with three having studied in AFIT civilian institution programs: Frank Borman, 1957; James McDivitt, 1959; and Edward White, 1959.
Neil Armstrong, one of the two civilians among the nine, was coming from another advanced project in which AFIT was represented -- Dyna-Soar. In 1961, Gen. Bernard Schriever, 1941 AFIT alumnus, described the Dyna-Soar program as the most advanced aerospace research system the Air Force had: a manned space glider intended to re-enter the earth's atmosphere under the control of a pilot who would land it at a conventional air base. Re-useable after servicing, it would be boosted into space by a Titan rocket.
The Gemini 4 crew, Jim McDivitt and Ed White -- the first all-AFIT team -- lifted off for a four-day flight in 1965. During this flight Mr. White became the first American to walk in space. He found the experience so enthralling that mission control and Mr. McDivitt had to coax him back into the spacecraft on schedule.
Later during the Gemini program, NASA would name an additional 14 astronauts. This group had seven Air Force members, and six were graduates of AFIT programs, either in residence or at civilian institutions: Capt. William Anders, 1962; Capt. Charles Bassatt, 1960; Capt. Michael Collins, 1964; Capt. Donn Eisele, 1960; Capt. David Scott, 1962; and Maj. Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, 1962.
The younger Aldrin was the son of 1st Lt. Edwin Aldrin Sr., who had organized the Air School of Application in 1919 and graduated in its first class. This school would later become the Air Force Institute of Technology. Besides the Air Force astronauts, there was a Navy Lt. Roger Chaffee, who was working on a master's degree in engineering at AFIT when he was notified of his selection. He left for Houston in 1964 and continued his studies via correspondence.
After the success of the Mercury and Gemini programs, the NASA Apollo project aimed at placing a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s. Three former AFIT students -- Captain Grissom, Mr. White and Roger Chaffee -- were selected to make a journey of 14 days, a shakedown test of the Apollo moon ship.
Tragedy struck on Jan. 27, 1967. A flash fire swept through the command module where the astronauts were making a final systems test, killing all three. While the nation mourned the loss, the Apollo program would go on.
Apollo 11 realized the space program's dream of a man on the moon when astronauts Captain Aldrin and Mr. Armstrong landed the lunar module, Eagle, in the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969. Mr. Armstrong would open the hatch and utter that now famous statement: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Captain Aldrin joined him on the moon's surface soon after, becoming AFIT's first grad on the moon.
Many AFIT alumni have gone on to diverse and important careers in America's space program. Some have pursued their dreams of becoming an astronaut like Col. Guion S. Bluford, 1974, America's first African-American astronaut. Others have contributed in technical and engineering work that contributed to and provided the success for the accomplishments in space.
The current AFIT Graduate Space Systems program is 12 months and leads to a master of space systems degree. The program is designed to provide students with a broad knowledge of space engineering and space physics to increase a military officer's effectiveness in the selection, planning and management of space systems that serve DOD operational requirements.