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Have Any Sitting Politicians Gone into Space?

Yes, indeed, sitting politicians have ventured into the final frontier. In 1984, U.S. Senator Jake Garn made history aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. His journey symbolized the merging of policy and space exploration. Curious about how this experience influenced his political perspective? Imagine the insights gained from seeing Earth from above. Let's explore what this means for the future of space policy.

Everyone knows that the orbit of politicians is far from that of regular citizens, but in 1985, U.S. Senator Jake Garn (R-Utah) took this distance to new heights – literally. Garn, a member of the influential Appropriations Committee and the head of a subcommittee that dealt with NASA, nabbed a seat on the Space Shuttle Discovery, thus becoming the first sitting member of Congress to go into space.

As exciting as that sounds, the trip wasn't the resounding success Garn might have hoped for. He got such severe space sickness that his name has jokingly become a scale of such illness; i.e., a "Garn" is as bad as it gets. Even "Doonesbury" cartoonist Gary Trudeau mocked Garn, nicknaming him "Barfin' Jake" in the comic strip. Technically speaking, Garn was a payload specialist on the flight, which took place April 12-19, and he traveled more than 2.5 million miles.

More flights of fancy:

  • At a speed of 17,500 miles (28,000 km) per hour, the International Space Station allows astronauts to see a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes.

  • The only U.S. president to witness a space shuttle launch firsthand was Bill Clinton in 1998.

  • Columbia, the first shuttle to fly into space, weighed 178,000 pounds (80,700 kg), or the equivalent of 13 African elephants.

Frequently Asked Questions

Have any sitting politicians ever traveled to space?

Sen. Jake Garn (R-UT) was the first sitting member of Congress to fly into space; he suffered from severe space sickness.
Sen. Jake Garn (R-UT) was the first sitting member of Congress to fly into space; he suffered from severe space sickness.

Yes, a sitting politician has traveled to space. In 1984, U.S. Senator Jake Garn became the first sitting member of Congress to fly in space. He flew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-51-D mission. Later, in 1998, U.S. Senator John Glenn, who had previously been the first American to orbit Earth in 1962, returned to space on the Space Shuttle Discovery's STS-95 mission at the age of 77, while still serving as a senator.

What was the purpose of sending politicians into space?

The inclusion of politicians in space missions has been part of NASA's efforts to promote space exploration and gain political support. Senator Jake Garn, being the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee overseeing NASA's budget, was seen as a way to better understand and support the agency's endeavors. Similarly, John Glenn's return to space was not only a historic event but also served to study the effects of spaceflight on the elderly, providing valuable scientific data.

Are there any plans for future politicians to go to space?

As of my knowledge cutoff in 2023, there are no publicly announced plans for current politicians to travel to space. However, with the advent of commercial spaceflight and companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, the possibility exists for politicians to participate in future missions, either for diplomatic, research, or promotional purposes.

How does a politician's spaceflight impact their political career?

A politician's spaceflight can have a significant impact on their political career, often providing a boost in visibility and popularity due to the high-profile nature of space missions. For example, John Glenn's already notable career was further enhanced by his return to space, cementing his status as an American hero. Such missions can also underscore a politician's commitment to science, technology, and exploration, potentially influencing policy decisions and funding for space initiatives.

What training do politicians undergo before going to space?

Politicians, like any other space travelers, must undergo rigorous training before their missions. This includes familiarization with the spacecraft systems, emergency procedures, and the physical demands of spaceflight. For instance, before his space shuttle flight, Senator Jake Garn underwent months of training with NASA, which included simulations, safety briefings, and learning about the scientific experiments he would conduct in space. The training ensures that all crew members are prepared for the challenges of space travel.

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    • Sen. Jake Garn (R-UT) was the first sitting member of Congress to fly into space; he suffered from severe space sickness.
      Sen. Jake Garn (R-UT) was the first sitting member of Congress to fly into space; he suffered from severe space sickness.