14 astronauts we know by name

From Buzz Aldrin to the late Sally Ride, these brave explorers made their mark by leaving Earth.

Chris Hadfield (Chris O'Meira/AP Photo)

In the early days of space travel, everyone who’d ever left the Earth was a legend. Today, with hundreds having made it into orbit, most Canadians can likely name but a few astronauts. Here’s our list.

1. Yuri Gagarin. Technically a cosmonaut, Gagarin, a Russian, was the first man in space, orbiting the Earth on April 12 of 1961. The achievement was highly symbolic at the height of the Cold War, in the early years of the space race. Gagarin became an international celebrity as a result. Despite his extraordinary achievements, it may have been his short stature (5′ 2″) that ultimately earned him a spot in the tiny cockpit of the first manned flight to space.

2. John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth, aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. He later became the oldest person to fly in space, at age 77, aboard space shuttle Discovery in 1998.  Glenn was a Democratic senator for 25 years.

3. Neil Armstrong may be the most famous astronaut of all, as the first man to step foot on the moon, and the speaker of the phrases “The Eagle has landed” and “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. The latter sentence as rendered is a contradiction, leading to much discussion about whether Armstrong actually said “a man“‘.

4. Alan B. Sheppard became the second man in space—and the first American—aboard Mercury mission MR-3, on May 5, 1961. Later, he returned to space as commander of Apollo 14, the third U.S. mission to the moon. Shepard piloted the lunar module and famously hit two golf balls on the lunar surface.

5. Buzz Aldrin piloted the lunar module for the Apollo 11 mission and followed Neil Armstrong from the lander to the lunar surface, making him the second man to set foot on the moon. It was his second space flight, after Gemini 12.

6. Marc Garneau became Canada’s first man in space on mission STS 41-G, the first to carry an IMAX camera. Garneau flew a total of three space missions and was later the president of the Canadian Space Agency. He is currently a Liberal member of parliament for Westmount—Ville-Marie.

7. Roberta Bondar. Physician, scientist, photographer, author and educator Roberta Bondar became Canada’s first woman astronaut when she flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1992. Bondar was the Payload Specialist for that mission, which was the first to perform laboratory experiments in space. She has since published popular coffee table books of her landscape photographs.

8. Chris Hadfield. Garneau was the first Canadian to fly in space,  but Chris Hadfield (pictured above) was the first Canadian to walk in space, and likely the first to play and sing a Gordon Lightfoot song in space. He has been CAPCOM, or capsule communicator, for several space missions and will be the first Canadian to command the International Space Station in 2012-13.

9. Sally Ride, who died in July of 2012 of pancreatic cancer, became the first American woman in space when she flew aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. She flew to space again in 1984, on the same crew with Marc Garneau. She later was a member of the boards of inquiry into the loss of both the Challenger and the Columbia shuttles.

10. Christa McAuliffe. Technically considered a ‘spaceflight participant’ rather than an astronaut,  Christa McAuliffe was scheduled to travel aboard the space shuttle Challenger as a teacher. The shuttle disintegrated shortly after launch, and she was killed along with the rest of the crew.

11. Laika began her short life as a stray dog in Russia in 1954, and ended it as a canine cosmonaut in 1957. Laika went into orbit aboard Sputnik 2, proving a living creature could survive launch and weightlessness. But as no re-entry technology had yet been developed, she was doomed to die in space. A dog gone shame.

12. Ham, a chimpanzee, got off a little better than Laika. For one thing, Ham survived his flight aboard Project Mercury mission MR-2 and lived into the early ’80s. Ham was named No. 65 until he returned to earth successfully, reportedly because American officials didn’t want the bad press that might accompany the death of a ‘named’ chimp in case of an unsuccessful mission.

13. Buzz Lightyear. He never went to the moon, but the fictional character popularized by the Toy Story films was voted #1 among the Top 20 Greatest Pixar characters, and is probably the best-known ‘astronaut’ among children today. NASA even hosts a Buzz Lightyear game on its website.

14. Guy LaLiberte. The billionaire Cirque du Soleil founder and CEO is a former accordion player, stilt walker, and fire-eater who in 2009 became Canada’s first ‘space tourist.’ This may exclude him from the official designation ‘astronaut’ but his trip, dedicated to raising awareness of water issues on Earth, was the first ‘poetic social mission‘ in space.

Have you ever wondered which cities have the most bars, smokers, absentee workers and people searching for love? What about how Canada compares to the world in terms of the size of its military, the size of our houses and the number of cars we own? The nswers to all those questions, and many more, can be found in the first ever Maclean’s Book of Lists.

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14 astronauts we know by name

  1. Instead of some of the forgetable and ridiculous entries on your list, you should have added Mike Collins, the third member of the Apollo 11 crew. Anyone who watched the first moon landing certainly remembers him. And what about Jim Lovell, commander of Apollo 13?

  2. WAS AN ASTRONAUT NAMED *SHERNA*?, OR LIKE..

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