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Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

20 Super Facts About the Philadelphia Eagles

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

The Eagles are back. Super Bowl-bound for the first time in 13 years, the City of Brotherly Love is counting the seconds until Sunday's opening kickoff. Philly’s resident NFL club has yet to feather its nest with a Vince Lombardi Trophy, but then again, can you name another football team whose fight song popped up in the Star Wars universe? Swoop on over for more facts about this signature franchise.

1. A NEW DEAL PROGRAM INSPIRED THE TEAM’S NAME.

NRA eagle poster displayed by businesses to show support for government program - NARA
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

From 1924 to 1931, the Philadelphia area had an NFL team called the Frankford Yellow Jackets. After they folded, another club was established by league veteran Lud Wray and businessman Bert Bell. Their new franchise played its first game in 1933—the same year that saw Franklin Roosevelt create the National Recovery Administration. This New Deal agency enforced industry codes that were designed to set minimum wages, promote union membership, and encourage fair competition. The NRA’s emblem was a blue eagle carrying a gear and three bolts of lightning. Taking a cue from this symbol, Wray and Bell decided to name their team “The Philadelphia Eagles.”

2. THE NFL DRAFT WAS THEIR CO-FOUNDER’S IDEA.

In 1935, Bell—a future NFL commissioner—came up with the idea for a draft, the NFL's main talent-recruitment system, and proposed it at a league meeting. The first NFL Draft was held in 1936. Before the draft, it had been standard practice for teams to negotiate with college players directly. As a result, the most in-demand stars almost always joined the richest, most successful franchises. Bell convinced his fellow owners to implement a draft, whereby the NFL teams would take turns selecting athletes from a pool of eligible players. For fairness’ sake, it was decided that, in each draft, the worst team of the preceding NFL season would get to choose first.

3. PHILLY PLAYED IN THE FIRST TELEVISED NFL GAME.

On October 22, 1939, the Eagles lost to the Brooklyn Football Dodgers (a club which no longer exists) by a final score of 23-14. NBC sent an eight-man crew to film the contest, which was broadcast on one of the network’s New York City affiliates. Roughly 500 New Yorkers tuned in to watch the game. Altogether, the broadcast lasted for two hours and 33 minutes. There were no commercial interruptions.

4. IN 1943, THE EAGLES MERGED ROSTERS WITH THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS.

World War II created a massive player shortage, with many pro footballers leaving their teams to fight overseas. In Pennsylvania, the Steelers' and Eagles’ rosters were so heavily depleted that some feared both clubs would shut down. Instead, they merged. For the duration of the 1943 season, these two franchises consolidated their squads into one, 25-man team nicknamed the “Steagles.” Their union ended the next year, when Philadelphia recruited enough players to strike out on its own again. Meanwhile, the understaffed Steelers were forced to enter a new merger with the Chicago Cardinals in 1944.

5. PHILLY ICON STEVE VAN BUREN WAS THE FIRST NFL RUNNING BACK TO HAVE MULTIPLE THOUSAND-YARD SEASONS.

A fan favorite, Eagles running back Steve Van Buren ran for 1008 yards in 1947 and 1146 in 1949. He’s also the only Pro Football Hall of Famer who was born in Honduras.

6. JOHN F. KENNEDY AND HIS BROTHERS THOUGHT ABOUT BUYING THE FRANCHISE.

Imagine if a sitting president co-owned an NFL team? Such a thing might’ve come to pass in 1962, when the Eagles were in the market for a new owner. The First Family learned they could acquire the club for the bargain price of $6 million. It was a tempting prospect.

According to former senator Ted Kennedy, “My brother Jack called me and said, ‘Are you in for a third if we can get [the Eagles] for $6 million? I’ve talked to Bobby and he says he’ll go for it.’ I said, ‘Okay, I’ll go for a third.’” The deal never materialized, however. As ex-senator John Culver—a lifelong friend of Ted’s—has explained, the Kennedys became convinced that owning the Eagles “wouldn't work very compatibly with Jack's responsibility as president.”

7. SOME EAGLES DIEHARDS GOT TO ATTEND THE 1948 NFL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME FOR FREE ... THEY JUST HAD TO BRING SHOVELS.

During the pre-Super Bowl Era, the Eagles won three National Football League titles. They earned the first of these on December 14, 1948 by beating the Cardinals in that year’s NFL Championship Game. Played at Philly’s Shibe Park, the contest was a bleak affair. That’s because, hours before kickoff, a nasty blizzard smothered the host stadium under a foot and a half of snow. Fans were told that if they brought a shovel over and helped clear the field, they wouldn’t be charged admission. In the end, the groundskeepers, an army of shovel-wielding spectators, and players from both teams all had to work together to get Shibe Park ready for the big game.

8. THE EAGLES WERE THE ONLY TEAM TO EVER BEAT VINCE LOMBARDI’S PACKERS IN THE PLAYOFFS.

The Vince Lombardi Trophy is named after a gridiron giant. As Green Bay’s head coach, Lombardi won five world championships, including the first two Super Bowls. Under his command, the Packers were a force to be reckoned with, especially in the postseason. Indeed, they only suffered one playoff loss during Lombardi’s legendary, nine-year tenure: In the 1960 NFL Championship Game, the Eagles prevailed over the Packers at Franklin Field by a final score of 17-13.

9. THAT SANTA CLAUS WHO WAS FAMOUSLY PELTED WITH SNOWBALLS BY EAGLES FANS THOUGHT THE INCIDENT WAS FUNNY.  

Philadelphians will never hear the end of the Santa Claus incident: On December 15, 1968, the last-place, 2-11 Eagles played their final game of the season against the Minnesota Vikings. Some 54,535 fans fought their way through a blizzard to watch the game at Philly’s Franklin Field. In an effort to raise everyone’s spirits, the owners had booked a Santa Claus impersonator to perform at halftime, but the actor never showed. Fortunately, the staff noticed then-19-year-old Frank Olivo who, as fate would have it, had worn a homemade Santa suit to the game.

After agreeing to fill in for the absent Kringle, Olivo made his way down to the field—where the miserable, frigid fans started booing him and hurling snowballs. It was an incident that Eagles fans—including those who weren't even born at the time—have never been able to live down. But Olivo claimed that, "I'm a Philadelphia fan, I knew what was what. I thought it was funny."

Before his death in 2015, Olivo event went on the record as saying “Philadelphia fans are the best in the world. I don’t care what anybody says, they live and die with their teams.”

10. A MIRACULOUS EAGLES WIN POPULARIZED THE QUARTERBACK KNEEL. 

When the team with the lead has possession of the ball during a game’s final seconds, it’s now standard practice for their quarterback to take a knee and run out the clock. That wasn't always the case, though. For a long time, many considered this maneuver to be unsportsmanlike. However, it became widely adopted after a 1978 Eagles-Giants game nicknamed “The Miracle at the Meadowlands.”

With less than 30 seconds remaining, New York had the ball and a 17-12 lead. But instead of kneeling, Giants QB Joe Pisarick tried handing the ball off to one of his fullbacks, but in the process, he dropped it. Thinking fast, Eagles defensive back Herman Edwards was able to grab it and score a game-winning touchdown. Needless to say, New York fans were stunned. One week later, the league embraced quarterback kneel-downs and never looked back.

11. ONE OF THE TEAM’S STRANGEST GAMES INVOLVED A THICK BLANKET OF FOG.

Bears and Eagles faceoff in the 1988 "Fog Bowl".
NFL.com, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On New Year’s Eve, 1988, the Eagles lost a postseason heartbreaker to the Bears in Chicago, in a game that has gone down in history as “The Fog Bowl.” Meteorologically, the title was well-earned. Lake Michigan sent a blinding sheet of fog over Soldier Field late in the first half, and the haze stayed put until the very last play. Visibility was so bad that most players couldn’t see beyond 10 yards in front of their faces. Up in the public address booth, Bears play-by-play announcer Jim Riebandt had to get game updates relayed to him from an usher who was standing on the field with a two-way radio.

12. SAFETY BRIAN DAWKINS RECORDED A SACK, A FUMBLE RECOVERY, AN INTERCEPTION, AND A TOUCHDOWN—ALL IN THE SAME GAME!

No other NFL player has matched this feat, which Dawkins executed in a 2002 loss to the Houston Texans.

13. SYLVESTER STALLONE MADE AN APPEARANCE AT LINCOLN FINANCIAL FIELD’S MAIDEN GAME.

ctor Sylvester Stallone makes an appearance as 'Rocky' prior to the inaugural NFL game at Lincoln Financial Field featuring the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers versus the Philadelphia Eagles on September 8, 2003
Doug Pensinger, Getty Images

What could be more Philadelphian than Rocky Balboa in an Eagles jersey? Since their inception in 1933, the Eagles have called six different venues home, and their present abode is the $512 million stadium Lincoln Financial Field—also known as “The Linc.” The team’s first regular season game there kicked off on September 8, 2003, with Stallone in attendance in a Duce Staley jersey. Sly, of course, is a huge fan of the club; prior to the 2017 NFC Championship Game, he filmed himself imploring the Eagles to “Keep punching.”

14. TWO STAR WARS FILMS CONTAIN HIDDEN EAGLES REFERENCES.

Lucasfilm sound engineer David Acord loves his Philadelphia Eagles. When he was tasked with devising a language for the reptile-like alien Teedo in 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Acord had the beast say “Celek” and “Fletcher” onscreen. This was a reference to Eagles tight end Brent Celek and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. For Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Acord passed off an Esperanto translation of “Fly, Eagles Fly” as a mystical Jedha City chant.

15. THE STRANGE COLOR THEY WEAR ON THEIR HOME JERSEYS IS CALLED “MIDNIGHT GREEN.”

Brandon Graham #55 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates his teams win over the Minnesota Vikings with the George Halas Trophy after the NFC Championship game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 21, 2018
Abbie Parr/Getty Images

In 1996, the Eagles swapped out the more conventional Kelly green uniforms they’d been wearing since the 1930s for some new outfits in this darker shade. The hue isn’t easy to reproduce. Nike actually had so much trouble getting the shade just right that the company failed to complete Philadelphia’s 2014 home uniforms before the season began. Due to this snafu, the Eagles had to wear white or black jerseys during their first six home games that year. Nike finally got the team’s midnight green uniforms ready for a week 10 matchup against Carolina at The Linc.

16. PHILLY HAS THE ONLY LEFT-FACING LOGO IN THE NFL.

The team’s current bird-head design debuted in 1996. (Previous logos involved a soaring raptor with a football in its talons.) You may have noticed that, uniquely for an NFL insignia, this one faces to the left. The reason? Look closely, and you’ll see a capital “E” hidden in the neck feathers.

17. THERE ARE SOME EERIE PARALLELS BETWEEN THE 2004 AND THE 2018 EAGLES.

New England Patriots Deion Branch #83 runs with the ball during Super Bowl XXXIX between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida on February 6, 2005
Al Messerschmidt, Getty Images

Let’s take a look back at the last Eagles team that reached the Super Bowl: The 2004 squad went 13-3 in the regular season. Then they beat the Vikings and Falcons before losing to New England in Super Bowl XXXIX. Right about now, football fans in eastern Pennsylvania must be getting a sense of déjà vu. After all, the 2017 Eagles also went 13-3 prior to defeating Atlanta and Minnesota in the post-season. Oh, and who will they face on Sunday? Tom Brady’s Patriots. Spooky!

18. IN 2017, PHILADELPHIA CITY WORKERS TRIED GREASING STREETLIGHT POLES TO PREVENT EAGLES FANS FROM CELEBRATING ON THEM.

By defeating Atlanta in the Divisional Round of the 2017 playoffs, the top-seeded Eagles earned the right to host the NFC Championship Game. Knowing that the team's fans are an excitable lot, and fearing the worst, city officials had workers grease up street lights around Philadelphia. These so-called “Crisco cops” hoped that the measure would keep Eagles diehards from scaling the poles once the game ended. Instead, green-clad sports junkies took the whole thing as a challenge. After the Birds won, several Philly fans photographed themselves climbing grease-slicked streetlights in defiance.

19. THEIR TEAM ANTHEM HAS CHANGED LYRICS OVER THE YEARS.

Every modern Eagles fan can recite the team’s battle cry, “Fly, Eagles Fly.” But did you know that when this song was originally penned by Charles Borrelli and Roger Courtland in the late 1950s, it went “Fight, Eagles Fight?” The anthem had all but disappeared by 1997, when a team pep band resurrected it. New lyrics were later added and the tempo was sped up. Billboard has since listed “Fly, Eagles Fly” as one of the NFL’s best jingles. Also, the Philly-formed band The Roots has covered it multiple times.

20. A PAIR OF CURRENT EAGLES HELPED LAST YEAR’S PATRIOTS WIN SUPER BOWL LI.

Well, this’ll be an awkward reunion. Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long and running back LeGarrette Blount both earned a Super Bowl ring last year ... as members of the New England Patriots' roster. (Blount had also won another title as a Pat in Super Bowl XLIX.) On Sunday, we’ll see them take the field against their old team. With the duo’s help, can the Eagles finally capture a Lombardi trophy? Bradley Cooper certainly hopes so…

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NASA / Harrison H. Schmitt
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Space
The 12 Men Who Walked on the Moon
NASA / Harrison H. Schmitt
NASA / Harrison H. Schmitt

If you were born after the Apollo program, and maybe even if you remember those days, it seems almost unbelievable that NASA sent manned missions to the moon 239,000 miles away. People continue to express sadness at the fact that the Apollo lunar missions were so long ago, and that soon there will be no one left alive who actually went to the moon. Today, Alan Bean—the fourth man to walk on the moon and the last surviving member of the Apollo 12 mission—passed away at the age of 86. Which makes it the perfect time to remember—or get to know—the only 12 people who ever walked on a body other than planet Earth.

1. NEIL ALDEN ARMSTRONG

Navy test pilot, engineer, and Korean War veteran Neil Armstrong left the Navy in 1952, but continued in the Naval Reserve. He worked as an experimental test pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) beginning in 1955, which evolved into NASA. Armstrong was assigned as an astronaut in 1962, and flew on the Gemini 8 mission in 1966, where he performed the first successful space docking procedure. Armstrong was selected to be the first man to walk on the moon, as the Apollo 11 mission was planned, for several reasons: he was the commander of the mission, he didn't have a big ego, and the door of the lunar lander was on his side. Although the first steps on the moon are what he will always be known for, Armstrong considered the mission's biggest accomplishment was landing the lunar module. He later said,

Pilots take no special joy in walking: pilots like flying. Pilots generally take pride in a good landing, not in getting out of the vehicle.

Armstrong along with his crew were honored with parades, awards, and acclaim after their return to Earth, but Armstrong always gave credit to the entire NASA team for the Apollo moon missions. He resigned from NASA in 1971 and became a professor of of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati for eight years. Armstrong served on the boards of many corporations and foundations, but gradually withdrew from publicity tours and autograph signings. He didn't particularly care for fame.

Neil Armstrong died on August 25, 2012, at age 82. His family released a statement that concluded:

“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

2. EDWIN "BUZZ" ALDRIN

After graduating third in his class at West Point in 1951 with a degree in science, Buzz Aldrin flew 66 combat missions as an Air Force pilot in the Korean War. Then he earned a PhD at MIT. Aldrin joined NASA as an astronaut in 1963. In 1966 he flew in the Gemini 12 spacecraft on the final Gemini mission.

Aldrin accompanied Neil Armstrong on the first moon landing in the Apollo 11 mission, becoming the second person, and now the first of the living astronauts, to set foot on the moon. Aldrin had taken a home Communion kit with him, and took Communion on the lunar surface, but did not broadcast the fact. Aldrin retired from NASA in 1971 and from the Air Force in 1972. He later suffered from clinical depression and wrote about the experience, but recovered with treatment. Aldrin has co-authored five books about his experiences and the space program, plus two novels. Aldrin, who is now 88 years old, continues to work to promote space exploration.

3. CHARLES "PETE" CONRAD

Pete Conrad was a Princeton graduate and Navy test pilot before entering the astronaut corps in 1962. He flew on the Gemini V mission and was commander of Gemini XI. Conrad was commander of the Apollo 12 mission, launched during a lightning storm which temporarily knocked out the command module's power shortly after liftoff. When Conrad stepped onto the moon, he said,

Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me.

Conrad later flew on the Skylab 2 mission as commander with the first crew to board the space station. He retired from NASA and the Navy in 1973, after which he worked for American Television and Communications Company and then for McDonnell Douglas.

Pete Conrad died on July 8, 1999 in a motorcycle accident. He was 69.

4. ALAN L. BEAN

Apollo astronaut Alan Bean was the fourth man to walk on the moon, during the Apollo 12 mission in 1969. He was the lunar module pilot. Bean was also the commander of the Skylab Mission II in 1973, which spent 59 days in flight. Altogether, Bean logged 1,671 hours and 45 minutes in space. Bean is the only artist to have visited another world, so his paintings of the lunar environment have the authenticity of an eyewitness. He retired from the Navy with the rank of Captain, but continued to train astronauts at NASA until 1981, when he retired to devote time to his art.

Bean died on May 26, 2018 at the age of 86.

5. ALAN SHEPARD

Alan Shepard was a bona-fide space pioneer who cemented his spot in history long before the Apollo program. A U.S. Navy test pilot, he was selected as one of the original Mercury astronauts in 1959. Shepard was the first American launched into space aboard the Freedom 7 spacecraft on May 5, 1961. His suborbital flight reached an altitude of 116 miles.

Barred from flight during the Gemini program because of an inner ear problem, Shepard had the problem fixed surgically and was assigned as commander of the Apollo 14 mission to the moon. He was responsible for the most accurate lunar module landing ever, and spent 9 hours and 17 minutes exploring the moon's surface outside the module. During that time, he famously knocked a couple of golf balls with a six-iron attached to his sample-collecting tool. With one arm (due to the space suit), he managed to drive further than professional golfers on Earth could ever hope to, thanks to the moon's lower gravity.

Before and after his Apollo mission, Shepard served as Chief of the Astronaut Office. He retired from NASA and the Navy in 1974, having achieved the rank of Rear Admiral. Shepard went into private business, serving on the board of several corporations and foundations. He founded Seven Fourteen Enterprises, an umbrella corporation named after his two space missions. Shepard wrote a book with Deke Slayton, Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon. Shepard compared his book to The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, saying, "'We wanted to call ours 'The Real Stuff,' since his was just fiction.''

Alan Shepard died on July 21, 1998 at the age of 74.

6. EDGAR D. MITCHELL

Ed Mitchell joined the Navy in 1952 and became a test pilot. Then he earned a PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT. NASA selected him for the astronaut corps in 1966. In January of 1971, Mitchell flew on Apollo 14 as lunar module pilot, becoming the sixth man to walk on the lunar surface. He retired in 1972 and founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which explores psychic and paranormal events. Mitchell gained some notoriety after NASA for his views on UFOs, as he has asserted that the government is covering up evidence at Roswell. His information, he admitted, came secondhand from various sources.

Mitchell died on February 4, 2016, the eve of the 45th anniversary of his lunar landing.

7. DAVID RANDOLPH SCOTT

David Scott joined the Air Force after graduating from West Point. Selected as an astronaut in 1963, he flew with Neil Armstrong on the Gemini 8 mission and was command module pilot on Apollo 9. Scott then went to the moon on Apollo 15, which landed on the lunar surface on July 30, 1971. It was the first mission to land near mountains. Scott and Jim Irwin spent 18 hours exploring the lunar landscape in the Lunar Roving Vehicle in the first mission to use such a vehicle to travel on the moon.

Scott became famous for the "postage stamp incident," in which he took unauthorized postage stamp covers to the moon with the intent to sell them afterwards. NASA had turned a blind eye to such activities before, but publicity over the matter caused them to discipline Scott and he never flew again. Scott retired from NASA in 1977 and served as a consultant for several movies and TV shows about the space program. He also wrote a book with former cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race.

David Scott is 85 years old.

8. JAMES B. IRWIN

Air Force test pilot James Irwin became an astronaut in 1966. He was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 15 in 1971. His 18.5 hours of lunar surface exploration included gathering many samples of rocks. The astronauts' medical conditions were being monitored from Earth, and they noticed Irwin developing symptoms of heart trouble. As he was breathing 100% oxygen and under lower gravity than on Earth, mission control decided he was in the best environment possible for such irregularity -under the circumstances. Irwin's heart rhythm was normal by the time Apollo 15 returned to Earth, but he had a heart attack a few months later. Irwin retired from NASA and the Air Force (with the rank of Colonel) in 1972 and founded the High Flight Foundation in order to spread the Christian gospel during the last twenty years of his life. He notably took several groups on expeditions to Mt. Ararat to search for Noah's Ark.

James Irwin died on August 8, 1991, of a heart attack. He was 61 years old.

9. JOHN WATTS YOUNG

John Young is so far the longest serving astronaut in NASA history. He was selected as an astronaut in 1962 and his first space flight was in 1965 aboard Gemini 3 with Gus Grissom. He achieved some notoriety at that time by smuggling a corned beef sandwich onto the flight, angering NASA. But Young went on to complete a total of six space missions in the Gemini, Apollo, and the space shuttle programs. He orbited the moon on the Apollo 10 mission, then was commander of the Apollo 16 mission and became the ninth person to walk on the moon. Young was also commander of the first space shuttle flight in 1981 and returned for shuttle flight 9 in 1983, which deployed the first Spacelab module. Young was also scheduled for another space shuttle flight in 1986, which was delayed after the Challenger disaster, so the veteran astronaut never made his seventh flight. Young finally retired from NASA after 42 years of service in 2004.

John Young died on January 5, 2018 at the age of 87 following complications with pneumonia.

10. CHARLES M. DUKE JR.

Astronaut Charles Duke was capcom during the Apollo 11 mission. His is the voice you recall saying, "Roger, Twank... Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot!" when the lunar module landed on the moon. Duke also made history by catching German measles while training in the backup crew for the Apollo 13 mission, exposing the crew to the disease and causing Ken Mattingly to be replaced by Jack Swigart on that terrifying spaceflight. Duke went to the moon (with Mattingly as command module pilot) on the Apollo 16 mission in April of 1972. He retired from NASA in 1975 having reached the rank of Brigadier General in the U.S. Air Force, and founded Duke Investments. Duke also became a Christian and a lay minister to prison inmates.

Charles Duke is 82 years old.

11. HARRISON "JACK" SCHMITT

Jack Schmitt was a geologist first, and trained as a pilot only after becoming a NASA astronaut. In fact, he was only the second civilian to fly into space, after Neil Armstrong, who was a veteran at the time of his flights. Schmitt was assigned to fly to the moon on the Apollo 18 mission, but when the Apollo 18 and 19 missions were cancelled in September of 1970, the scientific community lobbied to have Schmitt reassigned to Apollo 17 (replacing Joe Engle) as lunar module pilot. He was the first scientist in outer space. On the Apollo 17 mission, he and Gene Cernan spent three days on the lunar surface (a record) and drove their Lunar Roving Vehicle around collecting samples, conducting experiments, and leaving measuring instruments behind. Schmitt and Cernan gathered 250 pounds of lunar material to take back.

After resigning from NASA in 1975, Schmitt, a Republican, was elected Senator for New Mexico and served from 1977 to 1983. He became an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and lives in Silver City, New Mexico. In recent years, Dr. Schmitt's scientific background and political leanings have kept him in the spotlight as he has said that the concept of climate change is "a red herring," and that environmentalism is linked with communism.

Jack Schmitt is 82 years old.

12. EUGENE E. CERNAN

As a Navy pilot, Gene Cernan logged over 5,000 hours flying time. He was accepted into the astronaut program in 1963. Cernan's first space flight was on Gemini IX in 1966, in which he conducted extravehicular activities (a space walk), followed by the Apollo 10 mission in May of 1969, which orbited the moon. Cernan was assigned commander of the Apollo 17 mission before anyone knew it would be the last Apollo mission. Even after the Apollo program was cut, no one knew for sure that travel to the moon would be abandoned for decades. When Schmitt and Cernan boarded their lunar module for the last time on December 13th, 1972, Cernan said:

"I'm on the surface; and, as I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future — I'd like to just [say] what I believe history will record. That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17."

Cernan retired from the Navy and from NASA in 1976. He went on to found an aerospace technology firm, and wrote a book about his experiences as an astronaut. He also contributed his talents to ABC-TV as a commentator during shuttle flights and has made appearances on various space specials. In September of 2011, Cernan testified before Congress on the future of the space program.

The space program has never been an entitlement, it's an investment in the future - an investment in technology, jobs, international respect and geo-political leadership, and perhaps most importantly in the inspiration and education of our youth. Those best and brightest minds at NASA and throughout the multitudes of private contractors, large and small, did not join the team to design windmills or redesign gas pedals, but to live their dreams of once again taking us where no man has gone before.

Gene Cernan died on January 16, 2017

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U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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5 Things You Didn't Know About Sally Ride
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are five things you might not know about the astronaut, who was born on this day in 1951.

1. SHE PROVED THERE IS SUCH THING AS A STUPID QUESTION.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. SHE MIGHT HAVE BEEN A TENNIS PRO.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. HOME ECONOMICS WAS NOT HER BEST SUBJECT.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. SHE HAD A STRONG TIE TO THE CHALLENGER.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. SHE DIDN'T SELL OUT.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

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