Thursday, November 6, 2014

50 Years Ago: First Astronaut Fatality

Theodore C. Freeman (Captain, USAF) - official NASA portrait. 

It was an ironic surprise this weekend, when I was searching out some more events to mark the 50 anniversary of events in the space program, to learn a bit about Theodore Freeman. His passing on October 31, 1964, was the first American astronaut to die in a space related incident (flight training). He was killed when a large bird collided with his engine intake on his T-38 jet trainer, which was used by NASA for flight proficiency and quick travel for astronauts. While trying to land his disabled jet, his engine quit and his plane plunged into the ground while he attempted to avoid hitting buildings at Ellington AF Base near Houston.

Third selection of astronauts. Freeman is standing near the middle.

Freeman was born in 1930, and became a test pilot in the US Air Force. After becoming a test pilot, he applied for astronaut training and was selected in the third group in October 1963.

Freeman (foreground) and other astronauts training to eat food packs in microgravity aboard a NASA "Vomit Comet" training aircraft. Beside him is (far left) Charlie Bassett, who was killed two years later in another T-38 accident before his first space flight. Between them is Buzz Aldrin, who would later be the second man to set foot on the Moon.

Aldrin (left) and Freeman (right) training in Gemini spacesuits.

NASA T-38 training jets.

Over this last week, 50 years to the day, another test pilot was killed preparing for space flight when co-pilot Michael Alsbury died in the crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two. 

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