5 Badass Moments in Space History You Should Know About

In honor of John Glenn, here are some of the most badass things that happened in space that you might not know about -- but totally should. 


John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit Earth. He was also the oldest man to go into space at age 77. In addition to being an astronaut, he was also a combat pilot, marine, and even a senator for his home state of Ohio. Glenn passed away at age 95 on December 8, 2016, leaving a legacy of courage, bravery, and supreme badassery.

As a tribute to Glenn’s legacy, here are 5 other badass firsts from space history you should know about. Onward and upward!

First astronaut to survive in space outside a ship: Alexei Leonov

Credit: Science Photo Library

Russian Yuri Gagarin was the first person in space, but Alexei Leonov was the first person to do it outside of a shuttle. Leonov and fellow cosmonaut Pavel Belyayev rode the Voskhod 2 shuttle into Low-Earth orbit, and then Leonov opened the hatch. He undertook the very first spacewalk, floating solo in space for 12 minutes just to see what would happen. “Back then the world's rocket scientists didn't even know what space would do to spacesuits,” Cracked explains, courtesy of physics PhD Luke McKinney. “The only scientific function of this spacewalk was to see if he'd survive it.” And Leonov did.

But before Leonov could get inside the shuttle and get the information back to Russia, his oxygen supply inflated his suit so much he couldn’t get back inside. So he decided to turn off his oxygen supply until the suit deflated enough to fit back into the capsule. Naturally, in true badass fashion, “he didn't bother telling mission control what he was doing,” McKinney explains. “He didn't want to worry them.”

First astronauts to smuggle porn into space: David Scott, James Irwin, Alfred Worden

Apollo 12 EVA Checklist with Playboy spread, with censor bar added. Credit: Popular Mechanics/NASA

Scott, Irwin, and Worden were the backup crew for the Apollo 12 mission. Apollo 12 was the second manned moon mission, and its goal was to oversee the lunar module, scout new sites for future missions, and and deploy the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) “to gather seismic, scientific and engineering data,” according to NASA. In order to accomplish all of those things, astronauts kept a checklist strapped to their wrists as they explored the surface. That when the main crew discovered the porn. Tucked into the pages of their checklists were four spreads from Playboy magazine, courtesy of the backup crew. They even had cheeky captions like “Seen any interesting hills and valleys?” Naturally, the main crew recognized the badassery of sneaking porn into an official government document and reacted accordingly -- which you can read in the mission notes.

First person to have a space burial: Gene Roddenberry

Credit: Letters of Note

Gene Roddenberry is mainly remembered as the creator of the television series Star Trek, but he was also a badass. Before making television, Roddenberry flew missions with the Army Air Corps during WWII and earned multiple medals for his bravery. After that, he was a commercial pilot for Pan Am, surviving 3 crashes and saving the lives of 22 passengers after one in the Syrian desert, according to his authorized biography (and illustrated by The Oatmeal).

For a man that badass, it’s only fitting that he was the first person to have his cremated remains sent into space. “On April 21, 1997, the Pegasus rocket,” carried “a portion of Gene Roddenberry's cremated remains” into space, courtesy of space burial company Celestis. It was such a fitting burial that Celestis did the same thing for Roddenberry’s wife in 2012.

First astronaut to sucker punch a heckler - Buzz Aldrin

Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon. Before he did that, he was a fighter pilot. He is not a man to mess with -- as moon landing denier Bart Sibrel learned in this video. If you didn’t see it: Buzz punched a guy who called him a coward. Do not call Buzz Aldrin a coward. 

First astronauts to survive on a dead space station -- Vasily Tsibliev, Aleksandr Lazutkin, and Mike Foale

Credit: NASA

Mir was the very first space station ever built. Unfortunately it was built by the USSR and outlived it, meaning that its supply missions were a complete mess. “The crew was made to manually dock resupply ships, because the country making their automatic docking system was no longer a part of Russia,” McKinney explains. That meant that the astronauts piloting the supply ship had to “turn off the radar system and guide the speeding supply capsule with handheld rangefinders by looking out the window.” Naturally that caused a collision which opened the vacuum seal in the station, ruined the solar power panels, caused an electrical fire, and depleted the emergency battery that had been running the entire time. And then? “The entire station died,” McKinney writes. He continues:

Three men spent the next 30 hours awake orbiting Earth in a dead aluminum box. They passed the time working out how to reorient the station and not die with their Soyuz capsule's rocket motors. This involved waving lots of paper: Not to show off the numbers, but to make sure the carbon dioxide they were breathing out didn't build up and kill them.

After 48 hours they got the toilets working again -- and took the most heroically earned bathroom break in history.

With President Obama and Elon Musk pushing for manned Mars missions in the next 15 years, hopefully we’ll see more stories like these. Until then, let's honor our badass astronauts while we still have them. 

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.