Naval History and Heritage Command

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The Navy's Role in Space Exploration

All U.S. Navy Crew, Apollo 12, Manned Landing Mission, painting by Paul D. Ortlip

All U.S. Navy Crew, Apollo 12, Manned Landing Mission. Painting, oil on canvas, Paul D. Ortlip, 1969. (Accession #88-162-OF)

“The utilization of space truly has been a national effort; the talents of the military services have been invaluable through these years. The United States Navy has played a particularly important part in the development and final realization of that enterprise.”

Captain Alan B. Shepard Jr., USN
NASA Astronaut
From the foreword to Space and the United States Navy

Even before the establishment of NASA in 1958, the U.S. Navy was involved in atmospheric and high-altitude research through the Naval Research Laboratory and Office of Naval Research. U.S. Navy contributions to space exploration continued with NASA’s manned space flight programs. Navy personnel served as astronauts in space missions, and Navy ships supported recovery of astronauts at sea until the development of the space shuttle. The first American in space, Alan Shepard, was an officer in the U.S. Navy; a Marine helicopter and the antisubmarine warfare support aircraft carrier USS Lake Champlain (CVS-39) were involved in recovery of Shepard and his space capsule. Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, was a naval aviator who served in Korea. From pilots to Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) Frogmen to researchers and engineers, Navy personnel have been involved in many facets of the space program. The links below showcase NHHC online holdings pertaining to the Navy’s role in space exploration.

Chronology & Research

Chronology of Space Missions with Navy and Marine Corps Astronauts, 1961-1981

Chapter 16 of United States Naval Aviation 1910–2010, Volume II includes:

  • List (as of March 2011) of members of naval aviation who have become astronauts
  • List (as of March 2011) of U.S. space flights with Navy/Marine Corps/Coast Guard pilots/astronauts aboard.

Research guide for Mercury 3 records

Space Flight Recovery

Space-Related Programs & Technology

From the Sea to the Stars: Chronicle of U.S. Navy’s Space and Space-Related Activities, 1944–2009
Publication sponsored by Deputy Undersecretary of the Navy (C3I & Space) and edited by the Applied Research Laboratory, Penn State University. Provides a detailed look into the Navy’s involvement in the evolution of space-related programs and technology, such as development of satellites for navigation and communication. Chapter 2 includes a summary of Navy participation in the manned space programs of the 1960s and Navy Spacecraft Recovery Force (Task Force 140). 

Artifacts & Exhibits


The Apollo 12 astronauts

The Apollo 12 astronauts stand before a mock-up of their space capsule at Cape Kennedy, Florida, September 1969. From left: Commander Charles Conrad, Jr.; Commander Richard F. Gordon, Jr.; and Lieutenant Commander Alan L. Bean. Catalog #: USN 1140809. Photo courtesy of NASA.
Published:Thu Nov 30 10:19:18 EST 2017