Fun Facts And Information About Astronauts For Kids

If your child is fascinated by space travel, here are some fun facts and information about astronauts that you can share with him.

By V Saravana Kumar

Fun Facts And Information About Astronauts For Kids

Saare jahan se accha Hindustan hamara” – These patriotic lines attained immortality on 2 April 1984, as Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian astronaut in space, replied to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s question of how India looked from outer space.

Sounds interesting, right? In fact, from witnessing 16 sunrises and sunsets in 24 hours, to bathing without water, there are so many interesting and amusing fun facts associated with astronauts and space travel. Let’s explore them here.

Who is an astronaut?

To begin with, let’s learn who an astronaut is. According to Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, an astronaut is ‘a person whose job involves travelling and working in a spacecraft.’ The word ‘astronaut’ was adopted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the year 1958 to refer to individuals who were to be trained to go into space. The term is derived from the Greek words ástron, meaning ‘star’, and nautes, meaning ‘sailor’. However, Russia (formerly Soviet Union) started using the term ‘cosmonaut’ (kosmos, meaning ‘universe’ in Greek, and nautes, meaning ‘sailor’) from 1955.

What is astronomy?

Astronomy is the study of celestial objects like stars, planets, comets, and galaxies. However, the scientists involved in this field are known as astronomers. They study the origin and evolution of stars and galaxies using telescopes or space-based equipment.

Some interesting astronomy facts

  • The sun is one of the 100 to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy.
  • The sun revolves around the Milky Way galaxy about once every 230 million years.
  • There are at least 100 billion galaxies in the universe.
  • The sun and the other stars are all huge spheres of hot hydrogen gas.
  • Earth is the only planet with plate tectonics (movement of outer shell).

Amazing facts about astronauts for kids

Fun Facts And Information About Astronauts For Kids

Names of famous astronauts

  • Yuri Gagarin, Russia (Soviet Union) — the first man to travel to space
  • Alan B Shepard Jr, USA — the first American to travel to space
  • Rakesh Sharma, India — the first Indian to travel to space
  • Valentina Tereshkova, Russia (Soviet Union) — the first woman to travel to space
  • Dr Sally Ride — the first American woman to travel to space
  • Kalpana Chawla, USA – the first woman of Indian origin to travel to space
  • John Glenn Jr, USA — the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth
  • Neil Armstrong, USA — the first man to set foot on the moon
  • Edwin Eugene Aldrin Jr, USA — the second man to walk on the moon
  • Michael Collins, USA — the commander of ‘Apollo 11’ moon mission
  • Alexei Leonov, Russia (Soviet Union) — the first astronaut to do a spacewalk
  • Svetlana Savitskaya, Russia (Soviet Union) — the first woman astronaut to do a spacewalk
  • Alan Shepard Jr, USA — the only astronaut to hit a golf ball on the moon
  • Peggy Whitson, USA — holds the record for the most accumulated time on spacewalks by a female (60hrs 20min)
  • Sunita Williams, USA — the second female astronaut with the most accumulated spacewalk time (50hrs 40min)

Indian astronaut facts

1. Kalpana Chawla

Fun Facts And Information About Astronauts For Kids
  • Kalpana Chawla was born in India but became an American citizen.
  • She did her BE in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh, in 1982.
  • She moved to the United States in 1982 and got a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas, Arlington, in 1984.
  • She later got her second master’s degree in 1986 and a PhD in Aerospace Engineering in 1988, from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
  • She started working at NASA’s Ames Research Centre in 1988.
  • She made her first space mission as part of the six-member astronaut crew in the Space Shuttle Columbia that took off on 19 November 1997.
  • On her first mission, she travelled over 16.6 million km in 252 orbits of the earth, clocking more than 372 hours in space.
  • Her second space mission in 2003 ended in a disaster, as the space shuttle she and her crew were travelling in burst into flames, killing all aboard. This tragic accident happened just moments before they were about to land in Texas, USA.
  • An asteroid has been named 51826 Kalpana Chawla, in her memory.
  • India’s MetSat series of meteorological satellites were renamed ‘Kalpana’ as a tribute to her.
  • She was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in USA.

2. Rakesh Sharma

Fun Facts And Information About Astronauts For Kids
Rakesh Sharma (centre)
  • Astronaut Rakesh Sharma graduated from the National Defence Academy, and joined the Indian Air Force in 1970, as a test pilot.
  • He was later promoted to the position of Squadron Leader.
  • He travelled to space in April 1984 in the Soviet rocket Soyuz T-11, along with two Russian cosmonauts.
  • He stayed in space for 7 days, 21 hours, and 40 minutes.
  • He was conferred with India’s highest peacetime gallantry award, the Ashoka Chakra.
  • He was also conferred with the title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’.

3. Ravish Malhotra

  • He was the backup for Rakesh Sharma in the Soyuz T-11 mission.
  • He fought in the 1971 Indo-Pak war as a fighter pilot.
  • He was conferred with the Kirti Chakra, an Indian military decoration awarded for valour, courageous action or self-sacrifice away from the battlefield.

Astronaut training

Fun Facts And Information About Astronauts For Kids
  • It usually takes up to two years of training to become a fully-qualified astronaut.
  • Candidates are chosen based on physical tests, health examinations and technical evaluations.
  • The trainees learn the basics of the space shuttle and the International Space Station.
  • They also study key disciplines such as earth sciences, meteorology, space science and engineering.
  • They are given water and land survival training.
  • They are then trained using simulators which replicate space conditions.
  • For practising spacewalks, they walk in giant tanks filled with water.
  • The trainees are made to fly in an airliner called the ‘Vomit Comet’ to experience zero-gravity and weightlessness.

Life in a spaceship - How do astronauts feel there?

  • Astronauts come across up to 16 sunrises and sunsets in a single day. So, they have to adjust their body clock, including sleep times, to suit this.
  • Due to lack of gravity, they might feel that their body fluids are rising up towards their heads, thereby causing nausea. They usually take around two days to get used to this.
  • While sleeping, they tie themselves into sleep bags that are strapped on to the spaceship’s walls.
  • The foods that astronauts eat in space include pre-cooked, freeze-dried and vacuum-packed food.
  • While brushing their teeth, astronauts spit into a washcloth as there are no sinks or wash basins.
  • To take bath, they use special soaps and shampoos which don’t require rinsing.
  • They exercise a lot to facilitate proper blood circulation and to keep their muscles and bones strong and active.
  • They grow taller by up to 3% of their height, when in space.

Interesting facts about spacesuits (astronaut suits)

  • A spacesuit is designed in such a way that it protects an astronaut from the harsh environment of outer space, extremes in temperature, and any type of radiation.
  • There are three types of spacesuits – those which are used for IVA (intravehicular activity), EVA (extravehicular activity) and IEVA (intra/extravehicular activity).
  • A spacesuit is made by sewing and fixing various materials together, and using metal parts to attach the different components.
  • The materials normally used include aluminized mylar, ortho-fabric, Dacron, neoprene-coated nylon, urethane-coated nylon, nylon/spandex, tricot, Kevlar, stainless steel and high-strength composite materials.
  • It also has a Maximum Absorption Garment (MAG), which collects the astronaut’s urine.
  • It takes roughly about two and a half years to produce a spacesuit.
  • A spacesuit weighs 127kg on the earth. It is weightless in space.
  • The material has 13 thin compressed layers with a mere 0.48cm thickness.
  • Each spacesuit costs about $12 million.
  • NASA is developing a new spacesuit which will improve the safety measures and agility of the astronauts.

International Space Station facts

  • The International Space Station (ISS) is a habitable artificial satellite that is floating in space at about 320km from the earth’s surface.
  • Launched in 1998, it is a joint project of five space agencies - NASA (USA), ROSCOSMOS (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe) and CSA (Canada).
  • The station has two sections - the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) operated by Russia, and the United States Orbital Segment (USOS) which is shared by other nations.
  • The ISS travels at a speed of 7.66km per second, orbiting the earth about every 90 minutes.
  • In 24 hours, it makes 16 orbits, thereby witnessing 16 sunrises and sunsets.
  • The space station measures 357 feet from end-to-end, and weighs 4,19,725kg.
  • A spacecraft reaches the station six hours after its launch from the earth.
  • The systems on the International Space Station are controlled by more than 50 computers.

Spaceships

A spaceship or a spacecraft is a vehicle used for travel in space. The Voyager and the Apollo series are some of the most popular spaceships.

How is a spacecraft named?

  • There is a specific protocol involved in the naming of spacecraft by space agencies across the world.
  • It is usually done by a team of engineers, scientists and administrators.
  • Sometimes, a public poll is held where people vote for their favourite name from a list of probable names given by the space agency.

Apollo 11 space mission

  • Apollo 11 was the NASA spacecraft involved in the successful moon mission.
  • Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin Jr and Michael Collins were the three Apollo 11 astronauts.
  • It was launched on 16 July 1969 from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA.
  • The Apollo 11 mission emblem featured a bald eagle, the national bird of USA.
  • The spacecraft was made of a command module called ‘Columbia’ and a lunar module named ‘Eagle’.
  • On 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin Jr boarded the ‘Eagle’ to reach the moon’s surface, while Michael Collins stayed in the ‘Columbia’ which was positioned on the lunar orbit.
  • They landed on the moon at a spot called the ‘Sea of Tranquility’ and stayed there for around two and a half hours, collecting samples of sand, rock and dust.
  • They also planted the American flag on the moon’s surface.
  • The entire mission on the moon was telecast to people on the earth.

Spaceflight disasters and astronauts who lost their lives

  • 23 March 1961 — Soviet cosmonaut Valentin Bondarenko succumbed to burn injuries he suffered in a fire accident during an endurance experiment in a low-pressure altitude chamber.
  • 31 October 1964 — American astronaut Theodore Freeman was killed in a training jet crash.
  • 28 February 1966 — American astronauts Elliot See and Charles Bassett died in a training jet crash.
  • 27 January 1967 — American astronauts Virgil Grissom, Ed White and Roger B Chaffee lost their lives in a fire accident during their spacecraft test.
  • 24 April 1967 — Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov died when his re-entry capsule crashed on to the ground at very high speed due to a parachute malfunction.
  • 15 November 1967 — American astronaut Michael J Adams was killed when his aircraft broke apart, 10 minutes and 35 seconds after take-off.
  • 5 October 1967 — American astronaut Clifton C Williams Jr died in a training jet crash.
  • 8 December 1967 — American astronaut Robert Henry Lawrence Jr lost his life in a training jet crash.
  • 30 June 1971 — Soviet cosmonauts Georgy Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsayev and Vladislav Volkov lost their lives due to suffocation caused by a sudden fault in the spacecraft’s breathing ventilation valve.
  • 28 January 1986 — American astronauts Gregory Jarvis, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Michael J Smith and Dick Scobee lost their lives when their space shuttle Challenger burst into flames just 73 seconds after take-off. Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher, who was also included in the mission as part of NASA’s ‘Teacher in Space’ program lost her life in the tragic incident.
  • 11 July 1993 — Russian cosmonaut Sergei Vozovikov died when he drowned during a water recovery training.
  • 1 February 2003 — American astronauts Rick D Husband, William C McCool, Michael P Anderson, David M Brown, Laurel Clark, Indo-American astronaut Kalpana Chawla, and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon were killed when their space shuttle Columbia disintegrated just minutes before landing on earth, after completing a successful space mission.
  • 31 October 2014 — American astronaut Michael Alsbury died when his spaceplane crashed during a test flight.

Prominent space agencies and organizations of the world

  • Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) - India
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) - USA
  • ROSCOSMOS State Space Corporation for Space Activities (commonly known as ROSCOSMOS) - Russia
  • Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) - Japan
  • China National Space Administration (CNSA) - China
  • Centre National D'études Spatiales (CNES) - France
  • Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) – Germany
  • Israel Space Agency (ISA) – Israel
  • UK Space Agency (UKSA) – United Kingdom
  • European Space Agency (ESA) – 22 European Countries

Popular books and movies that feature astronauts

Books:

  • 'An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth' by Chris Hadfield
  • 'Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery' by Scott Kelly
  • 'Earthrise: My Adventures as an Apollo 14 Astronaut' by Edgar Mitchell
  • 'Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut’s Story' by Michael Collins
  • 'To Space and Back' by Sally Ride
  • 'I Want to Be an Astronaut' by Byron Barton
  • 'The Foundation Trilogy' by Isaac Asimov
  • 'The Martian' by Andy Weir
  • 'The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy' by Douglas Adams
  • 'Red Rising' by Pierce Brown
  • '2001: A Space Odyssey' by Arthur C Clarke
  • 'The Abyss Beyond Dreams' by Peter F Hamilton
  • 'Star Wars Trilogy' by George Lucas Jr, Donald F Glut and James Kahn
  • 'Dune' by Frank Herbert
  • 'Out of Orbit' by Chris Jones

Movies:

  • Apollo 13
  • Interstellar
  • Gravity
  • The Martian
  • Space Cowboys
  • Mission to Mars
  • 2010: The Year We Make Contact
  • Moon
  • Armageddon

Space is an unknown frontier that is wide open for mankind to explore, but only a few privileged ones can go there. We believe these fun facts and information about astronauts have sparked your child’s interest in space travel and helped him understand the role astronauts play in space exploration. It is also important that children recognize and remember the contribution of astronauts who have their lost their lives in the interests of mankind.

Also read: Interesting And Fun Science Facts For Kids

About the author:

Written by V Saravana Kumar on 18 March 2020

The author is a writer, translator, editor, artist, graphic designer and a start-up enthusiast. He is also learning the art of parenting through his two teenaged children.

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