Frederick Hauck (LA ’62), former National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut and retired United States Navy captain spoke Tuesday night about the history and future of space exploration, as part of the last formal installment of the Experimental College’s (ExCollege) year-long 50th anniversary celebration.
According to Associate Director of the ExCollege Howard Woolf, the event was also the inaugural lecture for the new Voices from the Edge series, which will present a speaker each year who has done something innovative, special or unique.
Woolf noted that Hauck piloted his first shuttle in 1983, a mission that included Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. He also commanded the first shuttle launched after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.
Hauck began by recounting a history of space travel, citing the contributions of the “father of Soviet Russian space science,” Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Robert Goddard, an American engineer, professor and physicist.
“Goddard was the father of American rocketry and developed not only some of the theory but launched some of the first rockets propelled by liquid fuel,” he said.
After World War II, it was the Cold War and the accompanying Space Race that propelled the development of rocket technology, according to Hauck. He added that the goal was to see who could loft a nuclear weapon the farthest and be the most intimidating, noting that it was not realized as part of space exploration. This goal would rapidly evolve into who could get a human being into orbit first.
“If you could get a human being into orbit before the other, you had really done something,” he said.
The two sounds that came to define the 1950s were the music of Elvis Presley and the beeping of Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite in space, according to Hauck.
The launch of Sputnik, overseen by Sergei Korolev, a Soviet rocket engineer, ushered in the age of ballistic missiles, he noted. It also increased competition by making Americans feel that they were losing the Space Race, Hauck explained.
“There was a realization, let’s say, of many people in the United States, or at least a conviction, that we were falling far behind … in the Space Race,” he said.
Hauck noted that Sputnik’s launch led to a motivation to increase budgets for research, development and education in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields in the United States.
After speaking with a Soviet cosmonaut later on, Hauck found out that a paper published by an American had caused the Soviet engineers to believe that the Americans were much more advanced. In order to catch up on lost ground, Soviet scientists skipped some of their testings and were therefore able to launch Sputnik earlier.
“What if by cutting out those tests they missed something, they blew up their rocket on the launch pad?” Hauck said, noting that history could have been entirely different.
The United States, however, still profited by coming in second, according to Hauck because of the country’s increased dedication to its education system.
According to Hauck, after the United States once again lost the race to put the first human in orbit, President John F. Kennedy decided to champion the space exploration cause, declaring that the United States would put an American on the moon and bring him or her back safely before the end of the decade.
John Glenn, one of the original NASA Mercury Seven Astronauts, became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, Hauck said. After the completion of the Mercury series, NASA launched the Gemini series, and then the Apollo series.
“Apollo was the most spectacular launch vehicle you can imagine,” he said.
The first major tragedy that NASA experienced was the loss of all three crew members aboard Apollo 1 in a fire in January 1967. Although this setback was devastating, the program “was reformed, restructured [and] re-managed,” Hauck said.
In July 1969, the crew of Apollo 11 successfully brought two Americans — Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin — to the moon, an “extraordinary boost for the country,” according to Hauck.
Hauck also discussed the failure of Apollo 13, which was only salvaged through the extraordinary efforts of the crew members involved, noting that it has been called “NASA’s second greatest moment.”
Skylab, a inhabitable space station that was launched in 1973 for scientists to experiment with a microgravity environment, was an important step for space exploration according to Hauck. After the Skylab program came the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975, which was a joint effort between Soviets and Americans.
“It was a great idea to bring the countries closer together,” he said.
Hauck also spoke in detail about his experience flying with Robert Crippen, a former NASA astronaut, on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983.
“Everybody who remembers this flight remembers Sally Ride,” he said, noting that it was not only Ride‘s first flight but also his own.
Hauck described the takeoff on his first flight, explaining that it took only 8.5 minutes to get into orbit.
On Jan. 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart right after takeoff during its tenth mission. Hauck said that a number of his friends had been crew members of the flight.
“I was fortunate enough to be asked to be the commander of the next flight,” he said, describing his experience on board and showing photographs that he had taken.
Today, Hauck said money has increasingly been placed into supporting commercial efforts into space, including the carrying of commercial cargo and humans.
“NASA shouldn’t be in the business of being a bus,” he added.