Astronauts in the Zone

In only one more day, it will have been fifty years since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their historic steps on the moon. We have several photos in the collection of NASA astronauts training at the Tropic Survival School at Albrook Air Force Base in the Canal Zone, one of which features Aldrin eating boa constrictor.

Do you have any information about astronauts in the Canal Zone?

KIC Image 0003Buzz Aldrin eating boa constrictor, 1964

KIC Image 0004Astronaut Walter Schirra reaches for food offered by Air Force instructor H. Morgan Smith. Foreground, from left: Astronauts John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Donald Slayton, Elliot See. Behind Schirra, from left: Astronauts Gus Grissom, Frank Borman, Pete Conrad, Alan Shepard. Undated

KIC Image 0005John Glenn samples a bite of jungle cooking as Scott Carpenter checks his reaction, 1963

KIC Image 0006Russel L. Schweickart hacks a canteen from a section of bamboo, 1964


  • William Snyder

    Ran into them by accident at Gorgas Hospital, couldn’t believe in far off Canal Zone, here were the astronauts. Going to the CZ Jr. College at the time.

  • Robert Baldwin

    The Mercury 7 astronauts’ time in the Canal Zone coincided with my father’s (Frank A. Baldwin) tenure as the Panama Canal Company Information Officer. He was responsible for their public and social calendar during their stay. He hosted a party for them at the Tivoli Hotel and a trip on the Las Cruces tour boat. One of my brothers recalls that while on the Las Cruces, several of them jumped off the boat for a swim in the Canal. Another brother confirmed this: “If I remember correctly, they came by our house before going on the Las Cruces. Well, on the boat after a few drinks they decided they wanted to swim across the Canal and they dove off the boat. Dad was frantic, he could just read the headlines Astronauts Drown in Panama Canal.” I remember Walter Schirra coming to our house one day, and while there signing my report card (which, unfortunately, I no longer have). Their visit was a big deal, of course. I remember my father recounting a story about calling a friend of my parents that was single to see if she would go out on a date with someone. She said no. He told her he was one of the astronauts. She said, “I’ll be ready in five minutes!” Living in the Canal Zone was special. In High School, many of us were in the Explorer Scout unit tied to the jungle survival school in Albrook AFB, where the astronauts did part of their training. And those of us in ROTC also got to do jungle warfare training, which soldiers going to Vietnam also underwent.

  • Carlos Rodgers

    Several civilians lucky enough to participate in the Mercury 7 astronauts training sesions and/or reunions, received a token Mercury capsule pin. I still have the one that my father received. Sorry I can´t post its picture here.

  • Virginia Seng

    My Dad was stationed at Albrook AFB and I had the good fortune to be BORN down there during his assignment! One of my parents’ favorite stories was when I was just 6 days old, and my Dad took my Mom (& me!) out to the Officer’s Club for dinner to celebrate my birth. My parents were so surprised when in walked the famed ‘Mercury 7’ astronauts who were down there for Jungle Survival Training! My dad had the chance to go over and speak briefly to them, and several followed him back to their table where my Dad introduced my mom, and then Gus Grissom asked if he could hold me … a tiny little 6 lb 6 oz little baby girl, just a few days old … so of course, my mom handed me over to him! OH, if only my parents had a camera with them – I’d LOVE to have had a picture of that! I’m now a High School Astronomy teacher … and I’m grateful that my Dad always encouraged our interest in Space exploration. He even drove us over to Kennedy Space Center in April 1970 to watch the launch of Apollo 13 … what a great memory for a then-5 year old kid! Thanks, DAD!! 🙂

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