Have Any Sitting Politicians Gone into 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.

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.

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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.