Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Majoring in 'The Right Stuff'

It's back-to-school time, people! Let's say you're a rising high school senior, with long-term plans to travel to the moon. Where should you go to college?

Starfleet Academy: don't bother applying for a few hundred years.
Source: Wikipedia.

For the purpose of this blog post, I'll assume you meet a few depressing historical requirements. For example- you better be graduating from high school in the early 1950s, you'll need to be American, male, and have 20/20 vision. And you ought to learn to fly this:

A T-38; astronauts' jet trainer.
Source: Wikipedia.

A total of 24 men have orbited the moon; 12 of them walked on it. What lessons can we learn from their college choices?

1. Your best bet is a service academy. Not the Coast Guard Academy or the Air Force Academy, though. The Air Force Academy didn't exist till 1954, so most Apollo astronauts missed out on it by a couple years. The most popular college among the 24 is the Naval Academy (6 graduates traveled to the moon) or second to that, West Point (4 graduates traveled to the moon). But, if you can't secure a Congressional nomination to a service academy, don't worry, there are other options...

2. Hoosiers travel to the moon and get in-state tuition. After the Naval Academy and West Point, the third most popular college choice is Indiana's Purdue University. The first and last men to walk on the moon were Boilermakers: Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan.

3. No need to be fancy, y'all. Counting the service academies, 21 out of the 24 men attended public schools. No Harvard, Yale, or Stanford grad has ever walked on the moon. Only one Ivy Leaguer traveled to the moon. That would be Pete Conrad, Princeton grad and Commander of Apollo 12. His first word upon stepping off the ladder onto the lunar surface: "Whoopie!"

4. It's okay to be a late bloomer. One Apollo 13 astronaut, Fred Haise, started out at community college before transferring to University of Oklahoma. Apollo 14 Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa attended three different colleges before graduating cum laude from Colorado State at age 27. Even if college wasn't a priority, Stu was keeping busy: his first job out of high school was as a smokejumper for the U.S. Forest Service.

5. If it isn't NCAA Division 1 in football, don't bother. This is true unless the word "Technology" appears in your school's name. One of the 24 was an MIT grad, another a Cal Tech grad. Also, this rule doesn't apply if you are Pete Conrad. (Whoopie!) But otherwise, the better your school is at football, the better your chances are of going to the moon. An Auburn grad, a University of Texas grad, a Georgia Tech Grad, and two former University of Michigan students traveled to the moon.

The stars at night, are big and bright (*clap clap clap clap*)
Source: Scientific American.

So here's the full list of undergrad alma maters. First, the men who walked on the moon:

1. Neil Armstrong - Purdue U.
2. Buzz Aldrin - U.S. Naval Academy
3. Pete Conrad - Princeton U.
4. Alan Bean - University of Texas at Austin
5. Alan Shepard - U.S. Naval Academy
6. Ed Mitchell - Massachusetts Institute of Technology
7. Dave Scott - University of Michigan for one year, then the U.S. Military Academy
8. Jim Irwin - University of Michigan
9. John Young - Georgia Tech
10. Charles Duke (an N.C. native!!) - U.S. Naval Academy
11. Gene Cernan - Purdue University
12. Harrison Schmitt - California Institute of Technology

Second, the men who traveled to the moon:

1. Frank Borman - U.S. Military Academy
2. Jim Lovell - University of Wisconsin-Madison for two years, then the U.S. Naval Academy
3. Bill Anders - U.S. Naval Academy
4. Thomas Stafford - U.S. Naval Academy
5. Michael Collins - U.S. Military Academy
6. Ronald Evans - University of Kansas
7. Ken Mattingly - Auburn University
8. Al Worden - U.S. Military Academy
9. Fred Haise - Mississippi Gulfcoast Community College, then University of Oklahoma
10. Jack Swigert - University of Colorado at Boulder
11. Richard Gordon - University of Washington - Seattle
12. Stuart Roosa - Oklahoma State University, University of Arizona, Colorado State University

I considered lying and making up a 25th astronaut who attended my alma mater (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill- go Tar Heels!). But I kept things honest. After all, UNC played its part in the moon landings. 23 of the 24 astronauts were trained in celestial navigation at UNC's Morehead Planetarium

Nothing finer than to be in Carolina!
Source: UNC.

Sources: Wikipedia, Morehead Planetarium; Andrew Chaiken's A Man on the Moon.

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