Daedalians In Space

Celebrating the pioneers of the final frontier

By: Ms. Taylor E. Watson, Order of Daedalians Operations Officer

For over 60 years, the Daedalians have accepted and welcomed leaders in the development of American space power into our organization. Since the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was created in July 1958, we have celebrated the achievements of those risking their lives for the benefit of all mankind through exploration on the final frontier.


Project Mercury was the first U.S. program to put humans in space. On April 9, 1959, NASA introduced its first astronaut class. The “Original Seven” Mercury astronauts — Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom and Gordon Cooper — were invited to become life members in the Order of Daedalians and were inducted on June 9, 1961. They all received the Pioneer Astronaut Award from the Order. During the program’s 25 flights from 1961-1963, astronaut and retired Marine Col. John Glenn, Daedalian Life Member #4134, made history by becoming the first U.S. astronaut to orbit Earth aboard the Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962. He wrote to the Daedalians following his mission saying, “Many things were learned from this and from the earlier flights of Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom. Each flight is a stepping-stone in our ever-expanding manned flight research programs.” Glenn was honored by the Daedalians for his return to space on the shuttle Discovery on Oct. 29, 1998. At 77 years old, he became the oldest person to reach Earth orbit where he was the subject of several studies on aging.


In 1966, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas Stafford, Daedalian Life Member #559, piloted Gemini VI and helped pioneer the techniques and theory for practical space rendezvous. He received the Harmon International Aviation Trophy twice for these accomplishments. He began his career as a fighter-interceptor pilot, entered Experimental Test Pilot School in 1958 and served as an astronaut from 1962 until 1975, logging 507 hours 43 minutes of space flight. In the 1970s, U.S.-Soviet political tensions that had accelerated the space race began to thaw. On July 17, 1975, the NASA Apollo capsule docked with the Soviet Soyuz capsule and Apollo Commander Stafford shook hands with Soyuz Commander Alexei A. Leonov, signifying the nations’ partnership on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. In his later career, he directed the start of the F-117 Stealth program and initial specs for the B-2. He also was part of the F-16 Weapon System Program Office team that received the Daedalian Weapon System Award in 1978. Stafford has also received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and Presidential Medal of Freedom.


In July of 1982, Mr. Christopher Kraft, former director of Johnson Space Center, was invited to join the Daedalians as an Honorary Member, becoming effective in February 1983. Kraft was involved in the manned space program beginning in 1945 with his contribution in the field of aeronautical flight research at NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). As part of the Space Task Group, he served as the flight director for all the Mercury missions and many of the Gemini missions. He became the director of NASA in 1972, a post he held until August 1982 after successfully seeing the space shuttle program through its orbital flight test phase. NASA’s space shuttle fleet consisting of Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour flew 135 missions and carried 355 different people to space over a 30-year period. The space shuttle was humanity’s first reusable spacecraft. The shuttle program conducted cutting-edge research we continue to reap the benefits of and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station. Tragically, NASA lost two crews of seven in the 1986 Challenger accident and the 2003 Columbia accident.


Retired Air Force Col. Eileen Collins, Daedalian Life Member #8835, made history as the first female pilot aboard STS-63 for which she received the Harmon Trophy, and she was the first female commander of a Space Shuttle aboard STS-93. Of her four missions, STS-114 was the “return to flight” following the loss of Columbia, testing safety improvements and resupplying the International Space Station. During STS-114, Collins became the first astronaut to fly the Space Shuttle through a complete 360-degree pitch maneuver to confirm there was no debris-related damage to the shuttle’s underbelly. Collins, one of America’s first female military pilots, has been a Daedalian since 1983. An active supporter of the organization throughout her entire career and currently, she is also a recipient of the Daedalian Distinguished Achievement Award for her achievements as an astronaut, including logging more than 872 hours in space.

In Glenn’s letter of invitation to join the Order of Daedalians from retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Harold L. Clark, Daedalian Founder Member #99, Clark wrote, “The name of the original aeronaut, Daedalus, was adopted by our Order because of his spirit and courage in entering regions never before attempted by Man in an entirely new method of propulsion… Today that spirit has reached its peak in the training of our 7 Astronauts to go far beyond what Daedalus or the World War I pilots could have done, and is well expressed as the ‘spirit of patriotism and self-sacrifice that places Nation above self.’” In an era when our military capabilities, as well as many of the conveniences of everyday life, are both dependent on and increasingly at risk, Daedalians continue our mission to “Advocate for air and space power and honor those who flew and fly.” We celebrate the legacy of our Founders and those Daedalians who have placed service before self in daring to “slip the surly bonds of Earth…and touch the face of God.”