Learning About Famous Astronauts & Space Missions

It has been a while since we’ve heard about astronauts in the news, yet that profession is still important today. Explore loads of information for learning facts about famous astronauts and space missions below.

Text overlay of the title, "Learning About Famous Astronauts & Space Missions " with the background of space full of stars and an astronaut walking through the cosmos.

Facts About Famous Astronauts

Your students will enjoy learning these interesting facts about famous astronauts. The profession of being an astronaut and even the word astronaut seems pretty amazing to many children.

What is an astronaut?

The Greek and Latin meaning for the word “astronaut” (astron, nautes),  literally means “star sailor.” Star sailor is quite fitting for an astronaut whose role is to fly into space. An astronaut is someone who has been professionally trained to be part of a human spaceflight program.

Astronaut’s Spacesuits

Check out this spacesuits video to teach your students about an astronaut’s uniform. A space suit is a uniform designed specifically for astronauts to operate above the Armstrong Line at 19,000 meters.

It protects astronauts from extreme temperatures. The space suit is also called an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU).

Facts About Famous Astronauts

  • Although women weren’t always allowed to be an astronaut and venture off into space, a total of 64 have made it there. 503 male space voyagers have ventured to space, making a total of 567.
  • The very first human in space came from the Soviet Union in April 1961, but guess what? Their space explorers aren’t called astronauts. The Russian Federal Space Agency chose the word “cosmonaut” for their space travelers.
  • Chinese space travelers are known as “taikonauts” or Yu hang yuan, which means space universe navigating personnel.

We will learn some more fun facts about astronauts and space missions below. However, let’s first learn a little bit about the famous astronauts who have paved the way.

Recommended Resource –  Famous People Notebook: Astronauts

This open-and-go unit study on famous astronauts is all-inclusive.  Students will learn about famous astronauts and space missions through short, informative text and open-ended questions that prompt written narration. Best suited to students in grades 4 and up.

Famous People Notebook Bundle

John Glenn (1921 – 2016)

John Glenn was a part of the very first group of astronauts that NASA chose and was the first American to orbit the Earth. He became the oldest person to ever fly to space and eventually became a U.S. Senator.

John Glenn
Astronaut John Glenn, public domain

Alan Shepard (1923 – 1998)

On May 1961, Alan Shephard flew his first space mission, which lasted 15 ½ minutes, making him the first American in space. Alan Shephard flew on two space missions and also worked as the Head of the Astronaut Office.

Astronaut Alan Shepard
Astronaut Alan Shepard, public domain

Gus Grissom (1926 – 1967)

Gus Grissom was a NASA astronaut that flew two missions and was selected to command the very first Apollo mission. Sadly, he died along with two other crew members when a fire erupted in his 1967 spacecraft on the launch pad.

Astronaut Gus Grissom
Astronaut Gus Grissom, public domain

Buzz Aldrin (1930)

Buzz Aldrin wasn’t only an astronaut, he was also an engineer and fighter pilot. He made three spacewalks as a pilot, including being one of the first two people to land on the Moon along with mission commander Neil Armstrong.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, public domain

Neil Armstrong (1930 – 2012)

As one of the most well-known astronauts in America, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. He was an engineer, test pilot, astronaut, and administrator for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), previously known as NACA.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong
Astronaut Neil Armstrong, public domain

Yuri Gagarin (1934 – 1968)

The Russian cosmonaut named Yuri Gagarin became the very first human in space, even before Americans. Gagarin had a nice smile and charming humble roots.

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin
Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, public domain

Guion Bluford (1942)

Mission specialist, Guion Bluford, entered NASA in August 1979 and has logged over 688 hours in space. Bluford was in the third flight for the orbiter Challenger, the first mission with a night launch and night landing.

Astronaut Guion Bluford
Astronaut Guion Bluford, public domain

Valentina Tereshkova (1947)

Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to explore space aboard the Vostok 6. Before being chosen as a cosmonaut in the USSR’s space program, she worked in a textile mill and parachuted as a hobby.

Tereshkova was given the title Hero of the Soviet Union once she parachuted her spacecraft to earth from 20,000 feet.

Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova
Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, public domain

Sally Ride (1951 – 2012)

Sally Ride was the very first American woman to travel through space. On her first space mission, she worked on the robotic arm to help put satellites into space. She was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2003.

Astronaut Sally Ride
Astronaut Sally Ride, public domain

Mae Jemison (1956)

In 1992, Mae Jemison became the first African American woman to travel through space and served in NASA for 6 years. She wasn’t only an astronaut; Jemison was also a doctor, an engineer, and has written several books.

Astronaut Mae Jemison
Astronaut Mae Jemison, public domain

Fun Facts about Astronauts

  1. People can survive about 15 seconds without wearing a spacesuit. The process of putting on a spacesuit is called ‘donning’, and the process of removing it is called ‘doffing’.
  2. Spacesuits maintain earth-like conditions and help people to survive.
  3. On Earth, a space suit weighs around 280 pounds without the astronaut in it.
  4. In the United States, someone is considered an astronaut if they travel 50 miles or more above the Earth’s sea level.
  5. The youngest astronaut to go into space was Gherman Titov at the age of 25 on August 6th, 1961.
  6. Astronauts have to train to use the toilet. Yes, you read that right; a space toilet is different; it is a hose with a vacuum and a bucket with a vacuum for umm, number 2.
  7. Most of the time astronauts wear diapers/Maximum Absorbency Garments when missions are long and unpredictable.
  8. If you want to be an astronaut on an International Space Station you must know both English and Russian. Many manuals and communication occur with Russian astronauts so it’s mandatory to know both languages.
  9. Astronauts can grow about 3% taller while they are in microgravity. However, when they return to earth, their height goes back to normal after a few months have passed.
  10. An astronaut from Apollo 16 named Charles Duke placed a photograph of his wife and their two sons sitting on a bench on the Moon. On the back of this photo, he signed it, “This is the family of Astronaut Duke from Planet Earth. Landed on the moon, April 1972.” The photo is still on the moon today.

Who is the most known astronaut?

You probably already know this, but Neil Armstrong may be the most famous astronaut of all time, especially in America. Neil Armstrong coined the famous phrases, “The Eagle has landed”  and “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Who is the most famous astronaut alive?

Many astronauts who have paved the way for today’s astronauts are no longer around. However, the most famous astronaut alive today may just be Canadian Astronaut Christ Hadfield. He visited two different space stations, the Russian Mir in 1995 and then the ISS in 2012 and 2013.

Who was the first female astronaut?

The first female astronaut was a Russian-born cosmonaut named Valentina Tereshkova. Tereshkova was also the youngest woman in space. She even flew a solo mission on the Vostok 6 in 1963 and orbited the Earth 48 times.

In 1983, Sally Ride became the very first American female astronaut (May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012). Ride was an American astronaut who worked the robotic arm of the spacecraft; this helped put satellites into space.

Who was the first person on Moon?

Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins were the first astronauts on Apollo 11 in 1969 to land on the moon. Michael Collins stayed in orbit around the moon, where he did experiments and took pictures. Then, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first astronaut to step foot on the moon itself, followed by Buzz Aldrin.

They placed a United States flag on the moon as a sign that the ten-year plan to get astronauts on the moon had been completed.

Space exploration can intrigue any student, whether it is in physical science or specifically space science.

Learning about the cosmos gives children the perspective of what lies beyond the Earth and helps us understand our world, planet Earth. Earth is a precious planet full of life and living things.

In Conclusion

If you’ve enjoyed learning facts about astronauts, don’t forget to explore the Famous People Notebook: Astronauts to dive further into lives of astronauts and space missions.