On Saturday May 30th, SpaceX made history Saturday with the inaugural launch of two NASA astronauts into orbit aboard a commercially-owned spacecraft.
Aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, the Crew Dragon lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:23 p.m., embarking on the first human spaceflight from U.S. soil since 2011.
USC Viterbi's long-standing connection with the accomplishments of the U.S. Space Program began over fifty years ago On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong, USC Viterbi School of Engineering alumnus, M.S. '70, guided Apollo 11 to a safe landing on the moon as hundreds of millions of television viewers from around the world watched in awe. Taking his first steps--man's first steps on the moon ever--he shared the iconic words: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
NASA estimates that it took more than 400,000 engineers, scientists and technicians to achieve the moon landing. Over 500 people across the world have been to space, including over a dozen USC Viterbi alumni. Only 12 people have ever walked on the moon's surface.
Wanda Austin, interim president of USC from 2018-2019 and USC Viterbi Ph.D. '88, said:
“I grew up in the 60s, a young black female in the inner city. My parents told me that education was going to be the key to my success. They were obviously impacted by the decision that President Kennedy made that we were going to put a man on the moon. The fact that the United States was on a mission and the focus that it remain great in terms of science and technology and innovation, that enabled me to pursue a wonderful education that subsequently opened doors for me.”
Bogdan Marcu, part-time lecturer in the USC Viterbi Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, recalls his memory of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. Listen to the audio, the TV crackling with Armstrong’s messages to mission control in the background, and hear the story of how the historic moment inspired Marcu's own space dreams.
Photo/Courtesy of NASA
Charles Bolden, USC Viterbi M.S. '77, former NASA chief administrator, astronaut and USC trustee, on touring SpaceX and Falcon 9 with Neil Armstrong:
"I served for about eight years as President Obama’s administrator of NASA. One of the early decisions we made was to retire the shuttle and turn to American industry to produce the aircraft that would carry us to space. We had an organization of retired aviators called the Golden Eagles and we had a convention in Orlando. One of the things we set up was a tour of the Kennedy Space Center. On the front seat of the bus was Neil Armstrong. The tour was set up so we would go by the SpaceX facility where they had a Falcon 9 getting ready to launch. As we pulled up to the hangar, the first person off the bus was Neil Armstrong…Neil jumped off the bus and ran right into the hangar. He found some of the young engineers and introduced himself and started asking them questions about the Falcon 9. He understood the importance of them knowing...that he thought what they were doing was important."
USC Viterbi School of Engineering has been home to quite a few astronauts, many inspired by that first moment Armstrong experienced on the moon and by the knowledge he shared throughout his career. Check out these illustrious space enthusiasts here.
In 2005, the year that Neil Armstrong shared his wisdom with USC graduates in his commencement address, the USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (USCRPL) flew its first rocket, Del Carbon.
USCRPL students are inspired by the infinite possibilities of space, and many of them dream of being a legendary astronaut like Neil Armstrong. In 2019, they broke the student world altitude record with student-built, designed and operated rocket Traveler IV. Reaching an apogee of 339,800 feet, it shot past the Von Karman Line, the boundary between Earth and space that sits at 330,000 feet.
Meanwhile, the USC Liquid Propulsion Laboratory, an offshoot of USCRPL, built and tested USC's first 3-D printed rocket engine in Spring 2018.
Photo/Courtesy of USCRPL
USC Viterbi Professor of Astronautics Practice Garret Reisman on Armstrong's visits to NASA:
“Neil Armstrong would go back once a year and offer to speak to new astronauts. He gave a big presentation all about the X-15—in some ways he viewed the X-15 and his contributions to that program as the pinnacle of his career because of how involved he was in the development of the flight control algorithms of that vehicle. A classmate of mine asked, ‘When you saw the moon getting bigger and bigger and the Earth getting smaller and smaller, what was going through your mind?’ He gave what I thought was a really quintessential Neil Armstrong answer: 'Well at that moment, we had completed the transposition and docking maneuver and the TLI burn was done so I could take all those checklists and chuck ‘em…I put it in a bag of trash and it felt great.'”
USC Viterbi students have been inspired by Neil Armstrong and other legends in the industry in their quest to explore new horizons. Here are some incredible alumni, profiled in 2015 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the USC Viterbi Department of Astronautics.
Cover photo: NASA/BILL INGALLS