It was fifty years ago this week that John Glenn orbited the earth, the first American to do so.
Today, the manned space program is idle, the shuttle program is over, and the only ride into space for American astronauts is with the Russians.
However, one local man is helping to change that.
We met up with Jon Edwards, a Penn and Purdue graduate, who is one of the chief engineers for Space X.
They are gearing up for the first private launch that will take cargo to the space station.
He says it is a dream that was sparked right here in Michiana during his childhood.
Jon says, “One of my earliest memories is watching Star Wars at a drive-in theatre. The adventure and fascination with space kind of stems from movies, and then you learn we are actually doing this stuff…My dad took us camping quite often, and we would also sleep out in the backyard and look for satellites and shooting stars.”
Jon Edwards always had a dream of flying into space.
I met with him at the Penn Harris Madison Planetarium, where he reflects on his childhood fascination.
“It would blow my mind, like we walked on the moon. You can look at the moon and see it, and you think, ‘how can we have possibly done that?’…When I was in high school, I really wanted to be an astronaut. I mean, astronauts were like rock stars to me. There was an astronomy course taught by Art Klinger, and so we would come over here a couple times a week and learn about astronomy and stars and got to hang out in the planetarium. On the weekends, there were planetarium shows, and we would get extra credit to come out and help.”
Edwards pursued his dreams at Purdue University. I met up with him in 2000 at the Johnson Space Center for an experiment on a zero gravity plane.
Aside from having fun on what is known as the "vomit comet", Edwards and his Purdue team conducted their engineering experiment in space.
“That experiment was comparing these two different propellant device technologies…to watch how fluid arranges itself in these propellant tanks, that's what we were trying to assimilate. Now, we have a capsule called the Dragon, a space capsule very similar to the Apollo space capsule, and there are propellant tanks in that capsule similar to the ones we we're testing.”
After years of hard work and dedication, Jon is fullfilling his dream. He works for Space X in California, the company preparing to be the first commercial company in history to send a space craft to the international space station.
“Our next missions for the next several years are unmanned Dragon missions. We will be sending cargo to the international space station, pressurized and unpressurized cargo. We're working to develop the technologies to allow us to send humans.”
Technologies, Edwards says, that are based off what was done in the 1950's and 1960's.
“A lot of our technologies is based off what was done in 50’s and 60's. It has improved over time and is more reliable.”
Edwards boasts that the first and last person to walk on the moon are both Purdue grads. He hopes the dreams of space travel will continue with the next generation.
“We have great school systems in this area and great universities in this state. I encourage kids, if you have an interest in space, if you love rockets, pursue that. Pursue that. There are interesting and exciting things going on in aerospace. We will continue to do amazing things in space for now and until forever.”
The Space X mission to send cargo to the space station has been delayed a few times and is now set to take off in April.
On Thursday, we will talk to Jon about Space X, their mission, and the future of space travel.