One Small Step

A tribute to Purdue Graduates in the U.S space program

Purdue University has played a leading role in providing the nation with engineers who have designed, built, tested, and flown the many vehicles that have changed the face of space exploration during the 20th Century and at the beginning of this second century of flight. Purdue University is justifiably proud to be known as the "Cradle of Astronauts," and has now produced 24 graduates to be selected as NASA astronauts.

Purdue alumni have flown more than one-third of all manned U.S. flights, including Gus Grissom from Project Mercury in 1961; Neil Armstrong, Eugene Cernan and Grissom in the Gemini program in 1965 and 1966; and Armstrong and Cernan in the Apollo program from 1969-1972. Armstrong and Cernan were the first and most recent men to set foot on the Moon.

One of NASA's seven original astronauts, Grissom, made a 15-minute sub-orbital flight aboard his Mercury 4 capsule on July 21, 1961, making him the second American in space. On January 27, 1967, Grissom, fellow Purdue alumnus Roger Chaffee and Ed White made the ultimate sacrifice when a flash fire consumed their Apollo 1 capsule during a simulated launch at Cape Kennedy, Fla.

The nations manned space missions took on an entirely new course with the advent of the Space Shuttle. In 1984, Charles Walker, as payload specialist on Discovery, was the first Purdue alumnus aboard a Space Shuttle. John Blaha (in 1996) and David Wolf (in 1997) are two of the seven Americans who flew on the Russian space Station MIR. Recently Wolf served on STS-112 (October 2002), which was an International Space station Assembly mission.

One of two female Purdue graduates, Dr. Janice Voss served on STS-99 (February 2000) aboard Endeavour on The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission that mapped more than 47 million miles of the Earth's land surface. Dr. Mary Ellen Weber served as both medical officer and primary contingency space walk crewmember during mission on STS-70, Discovery, in July 1995.

In February 2001, Mark Polansky piloted Atlantis on mission STS-98, which continued the task of building and enhancing the International Space Station, Alpha, by delivering and installing the U.S. laboratory module Destiny. During STS-110 in April 2002, Mission Specialist Jerry Ross set a new record for U.S. spacewalks. Over a period of 17 years from 1985-2002, Ross has performed nine spacewalks totaling 58 hours 18 minutes. During this flight, the crew were awakened to "I am an American" performed by the Purdue University Band and dedicated to Ross.

Through their sacrifices and successes, Purdue astronauts have helped to conquer the barriers of space. Supported by thousands of Purdue engineers, these alumni have led significant advances in research and development of aerospace technology, headed major aerospace corporations and government agencies, and established an amazing record for exploration of space. They have transformed the science fiction of yesterday into the scientific reality of today and inspired our visions of tomorrow.

Read the bios of the Purdue Astronauts

Manage Faculty and Staff