TOTD 2018-06-05: First to Fly in Space Twice

Puzzle: Yuri Gagarin was the first person to fly in space.  Who was the first person to fly in space twice?

For the purposes of this puzzle, I adopt the definition of space flight used by the Fédération Aéronautique Interationale (FAI) and NASA: flight above the Kármán line, which is by convention defined as 100 km (330,000 feet or 62 miles) above sea level.  This is the altitude where the Earth’s mean atmosphere becomes sufficiently thin that a winged vehicle would have to be travelling at orbital velocity or greater to develop sufficient lift to support its weight.

Please don’t just type this question into a search engine.  That’s no fun and the odds are many of the results you’ll get will be wrong.

I’ll identify the first correct answer in the comments or, if nobody gets it, post the answer in a spoiler block to-morrow.

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Author: John Walker

Founder of Ratburger.org, Autodesk, Inc., and Marinchip Systems. Author of The Hacker's Diet. Creator of www.fourmilab.ch.

16 thoughts on “TOTD 2018-06-05: First to Fly in Space Twice

  1. I think Hans G Schantz should not be allowed to participate in the contest. He already knows the Hidden Truth and has an unfair advantage.

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  2. 10 Cents:

    Richard Easton:
    I was going to guess Gus Grissom, but wonder if it’s an X-15 pilot.

    Richard, did he write anything about the penalty for wrong answers?

    First place gets a one week vacation with Dime.  Second place gets a two week vacation.

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  3. My real guess would be a rocket plane pilot. The only one I can remember is Chuck Yeager. I guess that because of the frequency of flights and remembering they had to deal with getting to the point in the atmosphere of not controlling the planes by the wings.

    The obvious answer would be an astronaut who went up twice but seems to easy so wrong.

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  4. After looking not for a name but for a vehicles I will put forth a name in a spoiler.

    [spoiler title="Guess"]
    John Walker’s brother Joseph Walker in the X-15
    [/spoiler]

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  5. Years ago (back in the 1980s, when the Shuttle program was going great guns) an astronaut published a book. The publisher held a contest where you were supposed to guess how many humans entered space by a certain date. Jim Oberg and I both sent in entries. He included the X-15 astronauts and I did not. We were both wrong because (as I recall) only one X-15 pilot (Joe Walker) crossed the Karman Line – which was what the publishers counted. It was even more maddening because we both guessed right on the total number of Shuttle flights and Soviet flights by the deadline date. (We collaborated and flipped a coin on who would include the X-15 astronauts.)

    Sigh.

    Walker made two flights (but only counted as one individual). Those would have been before GT-4 (with Grissom). I cannot recall a Cosmonaut who made two flights prior to 1964. I say Walker.

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  6. Yes, the cat is out of the bag.

    Joseph A. Walker and the X-15Joseph A. Walker was the first person to fly into space (above the Kármán line) twice.  He did it on two consecutive flights of the X-15 research plane: on flight 90 (1963-07-17) he reached an altitude of 105.9 km, and on flight 91 (1963-08-22) 107.8 km.  These were the only two X-15 flights to exceed 100 km and be considered space flights by NASA and the FAI.  The U.S. Air Force defined space flight as anything above 50 miles (80.5 km) and awarded astronaut badges to X-15 pilots who exceeded this altitude.  A total of thirteen X-15 flights exceeded 50 miles, but only Walker’s two flights topped 100 km.  (If you use the 50 mile definition, Walker would still be first to make two flights above that altitude; in addition to flights 90 and 91, on flight 77 he reached 51.4 miles [82.7 km]).

    Walker was a civilian NASA test pilot, but not a NASA astronaut.  He retired from the Air Force after the end of World War II and joined the NACA (predecessor to NASA) as an experimental physicist, then became a test pilot, working at what is now called Edwards Air Force Base starting in 1951.  He was the first American civilian to fly in space, just one month after Valentina Tereshkova became both the first civilian and woman to fly in space.

    On 1965-03-23, Virgil I. (“Gus”) Grissom became the second person to fly twice in space, as command pilot of Gemini 3.   He had previously flown on the suborbital Mercury-Redstone 4 mission, which reached an altitude of 190.39 km.  Grissom’s Wikipedia page carefully notes that he was “the first member of the NASA Astronaut Corps to fly in space twice”.

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  7. Seawriter:
    I believe Walker also holds the record as the man who spent the shortest amount of time in space.

    Correction: After further reflection, I’ll bet Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie, each of whom made one flight above 100 km in Space Ship One, had less time in space than Walker on his two flights.

    That is certainly true.  The only other U.S. contenders would be Shepard and Grissom, who flew suborbital Mercury-Redstone missions, but both of them went on to make longer flights (Apollo 14 and Gemini 3).

    There is one other possibility.  Due to a failure in the Soyuz booster (the third stage failed to separate properly from the second), on 1975-04-05 Soyuz 7K-T No. 39 made a suborbital flight after the Soyuz separated and used its maneuvering engine to escape the booster (the launch escape tower had been jettisoned before this point).  The Soyuz capsule reached an altitude of 192 km (comparable to the Mercury-Redstone missions) before making a steep ballistic re-entry which subjected the crew to 21.3 g.  The time in space on this mission may have been less than Walker’s two X-15 flights, but as both of the cosmonauts on board had previously flown on the Soyuz 12 orbital mission in September 1973, both already had more time in space than Walker.

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  8. John Walker:
    Correction: After further reflection, I’ll bet Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie, each of whom made one flight above 100 km in Space Ship One, had less time in space than Walker on his two flights.

    I had forgotten about Space Ship One. We used the man with the least time in space in space trivia quizzes at the annual MOD Chili Cook-off in the 1980s (or 1990s). The other one was which NASA astronaut who flew in space spent the least time there (Walker was not a NASA astronaut), which for years was John Glenn. At least until he flew on the Shuttle. Now the answer is Scott Carpenter, whose mission went a minute longer than Glenn’s.

    Carpenter is also the answer to the question “what human has spent the least amount of time in Earth orbit?” The trick to that is realizing Gararin (who only flew once) never completed an orbit. He landed west of where he launched.

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  9. Seawriter:
    The trick to that is realizing Gararin (who only flew once) never completed an orbit. He landed west of where he launched.

    This is a matter of controversy, pitting astrodynamicists against geographers.  It was a common bone of contention on the old sci.space USENET group.  If you look at the launch and landing sites on a map, it’s clear that the landing site (51.270682°N 45.99727°E) is west of the launch site (45.920278°N 63.342222°E).  In the Earth’s rotating reference frame, Vostok 1 did not make a full circuit of the Earth.  However, the spacecraft was launched toward the east (to take advantage of the Earth’s rotation), and during the 1 hour 48 minute duration of the flight, the Earth rotated 24.5° to the East.  So, viewed in the inertial reference frame of the orbit, fixed in space, with the Earth rotating beneath it, the 17.34° difference in longitude is more than accounted for by the Earth’s rotation during the mission.  (This is the distinction between the term “orbit”: making one circuit in the orbital frame, and “revolution”: returning to the same longitude on the rotating Earth.)

    So much for the geographers.  The astrodynamicists say all of  this is silly.  To them, achieving orbit consists in reaching orbital velocity along a vector parallel to the horizon at an altitude outside enough of the atmosphere to avoid decay due to drag.  By this measure, at the moment Vostok 1 separated from its booster, it was in orbit.  If it had immediately turned around, fired its retro-rocket, and returned to Earth, it would no less have achieved orbit.  Once you have orbital velocity and altitude, how long you stay there is a matter of endurance, not the technology of getting there.  Gagarin’s orbit was estimated to have allowed him to orbit for around 20 days (much longer than his consumables supply) before natural decay and re-entry.

    One funny aspect of this controversy was that for a while, during the Soviet era, a map was posted of the Vostok 1 ground track at the Museum of Cosmonautics which showed it as completing a full revolution.  If you plotted this “orbit” on a globe, it was apparent that its plane did not pass through the centre of the Earth, as all real orbits do.

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