NH's Out of This World Contributions to Space Exploration
Photo- Wikimedia Alan Shepard, the Derry native who became America's first man in space.
It’s National Space Exploration Day, a time to celebrate all things far out. Although rockets blast skyward far from New Hampshire, the state has made significant contributions to the nation’s space efforts. Some are well-known. Others, well not so much but nonetheless are important and some even monumental.
Everyone knows about Pinkerton Academy grad Alan Shepard, America’s first man in space. Shepard, from Derry, served in the Navy and was a test pilot. He became one of the country’s original astronauts and made his sub-orbital (116 miles up), 15-minute flight on a craft called Freedom 7 on May 5, 1961. The town, and the world, celebrated Shepard’s feat that came about a month after the Soviet Union sent Yuri Gagarin into space. Shepard and his space-race achievement is celebrated throughout the area, including on the patches worn by the town’s police department. On the patch is Freedom 7 and Apollo 14, the flight Shepard made to land (and hit golf balls) on the moon. Shepard died in 1998.
Photo- Wikimedia Joachim Kuettner, left, and others with a Redstone rocket booster.
Shepard had a fellow Granite Stater to thank for his success. Did you know that a former German air force flier helped Shepard get to where he was going? That’s right. Joachim Kuettner, an accomplished scientist and glider pilot, worked with the Luftwaffe during World War II. He emigrated to the U.S. after the war and eventually became the scientific director at the Mount Washington Observatory. He was tapped by Werner Von Braun (another German who came to America after the war and developed our country’s space program) to help with the Mercury project. Kuettner died in 2011.
Shepard isn’t the only New Hampshire high school graduate to fly into space. There have been several others, including Richard Linnehan. Born in Lowell, he attended Alvirne High School in Hudson in the early 1970s and graduated from Pelham High School in 1975. He went on to study at the University of New Hampshire, the University of Ohio and Harvard, earning several degrees including veterinary science. He became associated with the Baltimore Zoo and Johns Hopkins University. Eventually, Linnehan was made chief clinical veterinarian for the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program.
He became a NASA astronaut in 1992. He has logged many hours on space shuttle spacewalks and worked with payloads and experiments of all sorts. He has been involved in several education and tech-oriented efforts, including space suit design.
And Linnehan isn’t the only UNH connection to space and space science. Alum Lee Morin became an astronaut candidate in 1996, only after becoming a Navy flight surgeon as well as other accomplishments after graduating in 1974. His list of contributions to the space exploration efforts is equally long and includes work on the Orion spacecraft, the next type of craft that will carry future astronauts now that the shuttle program has ended.
Photo- Christa McAuliffe
Of course, any discussion about education and space can’t continue without mentioning Concord teacher Christa McAuliffe. Chosen to be the first teacher in space, she trained to fly on the space shuttle Challenger mission. The craft exploded and broke apart 73 seconds after launch on Jan. 28, 1986, killing all on board while countless people watched on live television.
The most public focal point for space exploration in New Hampshire is the McAuliffe Shepard Discovery Center. The combination air and space museum and memorial serves to teach and inspire. It features a mock Redstone rocket, much the same as the one Shepard rode on his groundbreaking journey, a planetarium and other exhibits. It has summer and school-year programs for students and ongoing special events for all ages.
High tech companies big and small contribute components to various space ventures. BAE Systems makes Mars rover technology, Warwick Mills in New Ipswich makes special fabrics that become part of Mars descender airbags and parachutes that helped slow the space shuttle when it was landing. Timken in Keene and Titeflex in Laconia manufacture components for the space industry.