Congressional Space Medal of Honor

Instructor: Donald Kinney

Donald has taught English literature and history from middle school to college level.

This lesson explores one of the most exclusive awards that can be bestowed by the Congress of the United States--the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. It has been awarded to only 28 astronauts for their extreme sacrifice in the name of space exploration.

What is the Congressional Space Medal of Honor?

In 1969, the Congress of the United States authorized a new medal to honor those who have performed distinguished acts in the service of the country. Like the Congressional Medal of Honor, the new Congressional Space Medal of Honor would be awarded to a select few who had risen above and beyond the call of duty. The Congressional Space Medal is recommended by NASA and awarded by the President. Since its inception, the honor has been given to only 28 people.

Congressional Space Medal of Honor
The Congressional Space Medal of Honor

The Beginning of the Space Medal

The Space Medal was brought into being by Public Law 91-76, which states: ''The President may award, and present in the name of Congress, a medal of appropriate design, which shall be known as the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, to any astronaut who in the performance of his duties has distinguished himself by exceptionally meritorious efforts and contributions to the welfare of the Nation and of mankind.''

Notable Recipients

Though each of the recipients of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor has done something extraordinary to earn the distinction, a few recipients are of particular note.

Neil Armstrong, the first person to step on the Moon, was awarded the medal on 1 October 1978 along with five other astronauts, including Alan Sheppard, the first American to go into space, and John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth.

Neil Armstrong in his Apollo Spacesuit
Neil Armstrong in his Apollo Spacesuit

On 23 July 2004, the entire crew of the Challenger space shuttle was awarded the medal posthumously. Early that year, on 3 February 2004, the deceased crew of the Columbia received the medal from then-President George W. Bush.

Crew of the space shuttle Challenger
The crew of the space shuttle
Crew of the space shuttle Columbia
Crew of the space shuttle

Complete List of Recipients

The following table lists recipients of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and what contribution to the U.S. space program earned them the distinction.

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