Blast Off Into Summer Learning on National Astronaut Day

Space travel has always fascinated humans. At one time, the thought of exploring the moon and our solar system was a far-fetched idea. Today, the United States has dozens of successful spaceflights under its belt, and the space program has made unprecedented discoveries in the field of astronomy.

For many students, exploring faraway galaxies and planets is a dream they hope to one day make a reality. And now that warm, summer nights are approaching, there is no better time to let your child’s imagination fly and dream big. Get your future space explorer excited about the possibilities and adventures that await them by learning about space this upcoming National Astronaut Day.

Since 2017, National Astronaut Day has been celebrated on May 5 to commemorate heroic astronauts and the dedication and sacrifices they make. But why May 5? That was the historic day that astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to travel into space aboard the Freedom 7, the first manned flight of Project Mercury!

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The Who, What, Where of Human Spaceflight in the U.S.

Below is a timeline that highlights important dates and historic achievements in human spaceflight.


The Space Race between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union began with the country’s launching of the satellite Sputnik.


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) came into existence. Project Mercury was its first human spaceflight program and ran from 1958-1963.


Alan Shepard became the first American to travel into space on May 5.


  • President John F. Kennedy pushed for additional funding to the nation’s space program with the goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” before the end of the decade.
  • Project Gemini, NASA’s second spaceflight program launched and completed 10 manned flights.


Astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth as part of Project Mercury.


  • The Apollo program, the third for NASA, began and ran until 1972.
  • On July 20, American astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first person to walk on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission.


Skylab, the first U.S. space station, was launched and operated by NASA.


NASA’s fourth human spaceflight program, the Space Shuttle program, began with the launch of Columbia on April 12. The program ended after 30 years in 2011.


Sally Ride became the first American woman in space and Guion “Guy” Bluford became the first African-American to fly into space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger (separate missions).


Ellison Onizuka became the first Asian-American, and the first Hawaiian, in space.


Sidney M. Gutierrez became the first U.S.-born Hispanic astronaut to travel into outer space.


Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman to go into space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.


The International Space Station was launched. It features a laboratory where crew members conduct experiments in numerous fields, and is a joint project with space agencies from Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada.


John Herrington became the first Native American in space.


A crew of four veteran astronauts, Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus, and Rex Walheim, were aboard Atlantis for STS-135, the 135th and final mission of the American Space Shuttle program.

Unfortunately, tragedies occur from time to time, and it’s important to honor the fallen heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice. These include:

  • Roger Chaffee, Virgil Grissom and Ed White II during a launch rehearsal test at Cape Canaveral in Florida
  • Gregory Jarvis, Christa McAuliffe, Ronald McNaiar, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith, and Dick Scobee who were aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986
  • Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramo aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003

Today, numerous private projects are underway with the hopes of advancing human spaceflight. Encourage your child to pursue their goals by giving them the tools to learn about all things Earth and space. Whether your child is in elementary, middle, or high school, the Time4Learning science curriculum will motivate them and make learning fun with our interactive, student-paced approach.

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UPDATED April 29, 2021