The year 2012 was one of great loss for the aerospace community. The industry lost pioneers in space exploration, role models who inspired generations to strive to push the limits ever higher, and icons who proved that the sky is most certainly not the limit. In this feature AmericaSpace seeks to honor those that left us in 2012.
In February, five-time space shuttle veteran Janice Voss lost her battle with breast cancer. Voss was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1990. She went on to fly as a mission specialist on STS-57, STS-63, STS-83, STS-94, and STS 99. Voss flew to Russia’s Mir space station and was the Science Director for NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. Voss also served at NASA’s Astronaut Office Station Branch and assisted Orbital Sciences Corporation in their efforts with the space agency.
In July, Alan Poindexter, who had flown into space twice on the space shuttle on missions STS-122 and as the commander of STS-131, died as a result of injuries he sustained in a jet ski accident in Pensacola, Fla.
July also saw the passing of a U.S. space flight legend; the first American woman to fly in space passed away from pancreatic cancer. Ride also made history as the youngest astronaut to fly into space (she was 32 during her first mission), a distinction she still holds. Ride traveled into the black twice on space shuttle missions STS-7 and STS-41G. NASA honored Ride when it ordered the mirror-image GRAIL spacecraft, Ebb and Flow, to impact into the lunar surface. The impact site was renamed in her memory. Ride’s “Sally Ride Science” firm was a collaborator on GRAIL, contributing the MoonKAM to the mission.
“Sally was extremely intelligent person, and one who could always be counted upon to follow thru on an assignment, said Rober C. Springer, a two-time space shuttle veteran himself. “From my perspective, she was very much Dr. Sally Ride, she was very precise and academic in her approach to life. This gave her the appearance of being a bit stoic, but she was always friendly and supportive from a professional standpoint – she will be sorely missed.”
In August of this year, the first man to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, slipped the surly bonds of Earth and into legend. Armstrong passed away on Aug. 25, 2012, from complications that arose after he received cardiac bypass surgery. Although Armstrong will doubtlessly be remembered for his role in the Apollo Program, his service to the cause of manned space flight extends well past the Apollo 11 Moon landing.
Armstrong was selected to fly on the United States’ “Man in Space Soonest” (MISS) and Dyna-Soar programs before he was tapped to be a member of NASA’s second group of astronauts in 1962. Armstrong’s group became known as “The New Nine.” Neither of the two other programs (MISS and Dyna-Soar) he was selected to fly would last long enough to see a man sent into space, but Armstrong did get close to the final frontier as a pilot on the X-15 rocket-powered aircraft (Armstrong made seven flights in the X-15).
Armstrong would finally roar to orbit as the commander of NASA’s Gemini VIII mission. His calm and collected manner would save him and fellow crew member Dave Scott’s life when the mission encountered technical issues.
Despite being part of so much space flight lore, Armstrong will forever be tied to the Eagle’s landing on the lunar surface in July of 1969. After this event, Armstrong stayed with NASA for a short while before leaving the space agency and eventually teaching aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati.
Given the scale and depth of the space flyers that were lost in 2012, few could argue that this was a year of profound loss.