Space really is the final frontier, and while the space-race with Russia was on in the 1950s and 60s all of our astronauts and their cosmonauts were military men.

When the Mercury Space Program was first being considered, President Dwight Eisenhower decided that all of the astronauts should be recruited from active-duty military test-pilots. All of the Mercury astronauts were active military, and before that, the pilots of the X-15 aerospace plane that reached beyond the Karmen Line were all military men and technically considered astronauts (the Karmen Line is the altitude where space begins: 100 kilometers or 62 miles.)

Following the Mercury program, Project Gemini (two-man capsules) was all military until Gemini 8, when Neil Armstrong (of future moon-landing fame) became the first “civilian” NASA astronaut to fly in space.

The Apollo 11 crew – Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins – were all veterans. Armstrong was U.S. Navy, while Aldrin and Collins were Air Force. 

Everyone else in the Apollo program were Air Force, Navy and one Marine. The only pure-civilian among them was Harrison Schmitt, selected for Apollo 17 as a geologist, becoming the first actual scientist to visit the moon.

After Apollo, the U.S. Air Force Skylab project was all military with three three-man crews. The Space Shuttle – also known as the Space Transportation System – was flown by a jolly mix of military and civilians. The International Space Station in current use also has a series of diverse crews.

And now we have the United States Space Force, formerly the U.S. Air Force Space Command. Uniforms and insignia for this new branch of the military are still being developed; I wonder if we’ll see some Star Trek influence here?

Veterans organizations in Houston:

•American Legion Post 41 meets at 6 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at their meeting hall on the west end of Chilton Oil Co. in Houston (just north of Pizza Hut.) Changes to membership eligibility now allow U.S. veterans of all branches and periods of service to join the American Legion.

•Fleet Reserve Association Branch 364 meets at 2:30 p.m. on the fourth Sunday of each month at the American Legion Post 41 meeting hall in Houston. The FRA exists to serve all veterans and active-duty members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Houston resident Robert E. Simpson is a retired U.S. Navy chief electronics technician who served from 1969 to 1990. Email gfjjkaa@gmail.com.

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