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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Jennifer Watts
Many people dream of becoming an astronaut. I know I have. As of 2021, seven Tennesseans have made that dream come true. In the first “Tennesseans in Space” blog, we learned about Dr. Margaret Rhea Seddon and Barry “Butch” Wilmore. Today we are going to learn about the other five. In 1992, three of them were part of the same flight crew and went to space together!
Autographed photo of the STS-52 Crew, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
(Pilot Mike Baker-top left, MS Tammy Jernigan-Bottom middle, MS Bill Shepherd- Bottom right)
On October 22, 1992, Pilot Mike Baker, Mission Specialist (MS) Tammy Jernigan, and MS Bill Shepherd, went into space on the Columbia space shuttle. All three became astronauts in the 1980s. All three were born in Tennessee. Baker was born in Memphis. Jernigan was born in Chattanooga. Shepherd was born in Oak Ridge. The other two astronauts from Tennessee were Roger Crouch and John Bull. Crouch was born in Jamestown and Bull was born in Memphis. All five became astronauts in their own way, but they do have some similarities. Maybe you can learn from them and become the next Tennessee astronaut! Let’s take a closer look at these astronauts from Tennessee.
Mike Baker in pilot seat of “Atlantis” shuttle during STS-43, NASA (National Archives)
Mike Baker was a pilot with the United States Navy. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He flew nearly 50 different types of planes during his career. Each one helped prepare him to fly the space shuttle. He also went to school to learn aerospace engineering. During his time with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), he went to space three times. As a pilot, he flew the Atlantis and Columbia space shuttles. The third time, he was the Mission Commander. During his three flights, he spent 965 hours in space. That is over 40 days in space. He made sure the crews of each mission made it back to Earth safely. Does that sound like something you would like to do?
Bill Shepherd doing an experiment on STS-41, NASA (National Archives)
Bill Shepherd’s path to becoming an astronaut was a little bit different. He was born in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He also joined the U.S. Navy. He went to school to learn more subjects that helped him in his job as a Mission Specialist. He learned about aerospace, the ocean, and mechanical engineering. His job was to do experiments in space. He went to space four times. He even got to go on a Russian Soyuz rocket. On that trip he was the Mission Commander of Expedition 1. He and his crew were the first people to live on the International Space Station (ISS). He got to spend the most time in space of these five astronauts with 3,816 hours. Does his way sound good to you?
MS Tammy Jernigan preparing for a spacewalk on STS-80, NASA (National Archives)
Dr. Tammy Jernigan, Ph.D. was different from Baker and Shepherd. If you like science, then her path could be the way for you. She loved science. She went to school to learn physics, engineering, astronomy, and space physics. What she learned prepared her for her jobs as a Mission Specialist. During her five trips, she conducted many kinds of experiments. On one of those trips she got to do a spacewalk. She was outside the shuttle for almost eight hours! Can you image floating out in space? She got to spend 1,512 hours in space. If you like science, then her way might be the option for you.
Autographed photo of Astronaut Roger Crouch, Tennessee State Museum Collection
Another option for going into space is how Dr. Roger Crouch, Ph.D. did it. He was a scientist like Jernigan. He went to school to learn all about physics. What’s different about his path was that he did not start out working for NASA. He worked for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 1992, he began working with NASA on the science of microgravity. He started training as an astronaut in 1996, and in 1997, he got to go to space twice. His job was a Payload Specialist. His job was different because he was responsible for focusing on one specific experiment. He spent only 472 hours in space, but that was enough to make his dream come true.
Astronaut John Bull, Tennessee State Museum Collection
The story of Dr. John Bull, Ph.D. was more challenging than the others. Like Baker, he was also a U.S. Navy pilot. He was selected for astronaut training in the 1960s, but due to health issues, he had to leave in 1968. While he never got to space, he did not give up his love and passion for space travel. Instead, he went back to school. He learned mechanical and aeronautical engineering and in the 1970s went back to work for NASA. This time he was a researcher. He worked to improve flight systems and improve space technology for future generations.
Like Dr. Rhea Seddon and Captain Barry Wilmore from “Tennesseans in Space,” the four men and one woman listed above worked hard and studied even harder to make their dreams of becoming an astronaut come true. Even though not all of them made it to space, what they did and learned made it possible for future space flights. They also helped to develop technology that could possibly land a human on Mars. Maybe you could be the first Tennessee Martian!
Click on the links in the text to see pictures of the space shuttles, Atlantis and Columbia, and the Russian Soyuz rocket.
FUN FACT: As of today, Tennesseans have spent more than 11,757 hours in space and have orbited the Earth 5,547 times!
Astronaut - a person who travels into space.
Mission Specialist - an astronaut who is assigned a specific task during a mission like an experiment or job.
Aerospace Engineering - the development and making of airplanes and space craft. (Other types mentioned: Mechanical Engineering -designing and building machines, and Ocean Engineering -designing and building technology to use in water.)
Spacewalk - an activity where astronauts move and work outside the space craft while in orbit.
International Space Station (ISS) - a large spacecraft built by sixteen countries that orbits earth where astronauts live and work.
Microgravity - a condition in space where only a small amount or no gravity is felt.
Payload Specialist - a person who is trained by a company or research group for a specific job and mission relating to the payload (supplies) being brought into space.
How many Tennesseans have gone to space together?
What was the name of the only Tennessee astronaut to not go into space?
If you were a NASA astronaut, what kind of job or experiment would you like to do in space?
Imagine you are applying to be an astronaut. Write a persuasive letter to NASA about why you want and should be chosen for the job.
To learn more about Tennessee astronauts check out the original “Tennesseans in Space” post from October 2020. https://tnmuseum.org/junior-curators/posts/tennesseans-in-space
Do you want to go to space one day? Read this article from NASA on ten ways to become an astronaut. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/10-ways-students-can-prepare-to-beanastronaut
Tennessee State Social Studies Standard(s)
2.29 Examine the significant contributions made by people of the U.S., including: Neil Armstrong, David Crockett, Benjamin Franklin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Wilma Rudolph, Sequoyah and George Washington.
5.52 Identify influential Tennesseans from the late 20th century, including: Al Gore, Jr., Alex Haley, Dolly Parton, Wilma Rudolph and Oprah Winfrey.
Jennifer Watts is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum