What is the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame?
Only 580 people have ever traveled into space—a large number when one hears it, but incredibly miniscule when one realizes that these are the only individuals who have accomplished this act since human history began. Of these 580 people, 334 have been American astronauts. And of this fraction, 87 have been inducted into NASA's Astronaut Hall of Fame.
To be inducted into this elite Astronaut Hall of Fame, an astronaut must be judged by their peers. Other astronauts, along with flight control operators, journalists, historians, and others serve as a jury to induct “classes,” or new members, each year. The first class in 1990 consisted of the Mercury Seven, the first American astronauts, which included John Glenn and Gus Grissom. Since this auspicious start, the Astronaut Hall of Fame has inducted such greats as Sally Ride (the first American woman in space,) Francis Scobee (commander of the shuttle Challenger's last mission,) and Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan (the first and last Americans to walk on the moon.)
Since 2010, the Astronaut Hall of Fame has inducted such prestigious people as Guion Bluford (the first African-American in space,) and Kevin P. Chilton (the only former astronaut to achieve a four-star military grade.) The class of 2014 was the most distinguished as it had included Shannon Lucid, who holds the United States' record for single-mission spaceflight endurance on the Russian space station Mir, and Jerry L. Ross, who holds the worldwide third-place record for longest time spent in extravehicular activity.
With such distinguished company as this, current and future astronauts must demonstrate accomplishments in their field, whether in the field—in this case, in space—or in furthering the knowledge of space exploration. Astronauts in the Gemini era were test pilots who did much of the former; astronauts now are scientists who do much, though not all, of the latter. In the panel's eyes, a series of groundbreaking experiments on the sustainably of life in microgravity and a world record for time spent in space may hold equal weight depending on a number of other circumstances.
Whatever their achievements, the astronauts who have been inducted into NASA's Astronaut Hall of Fame are a truly remarkable group of people. Of the untold number of individuals who have lived and died on Earth, only a very small number have truly left the planet. And of these truly singular people, only these few have been awarded a place for their additional contributions