We live in a country and a world that attaches big bonuses to finishing first, and that includes record-setting feats. In baseball, Babe Ruth’s name is famous. And if you’re a fan, and maybe even if you aren’t, you might know that Ruth was, in 1927, the first player to hit 60 home runs in a season. Did you also know that Ruth was also the first in the modern era of Major League Baseball history to reach the milestones of 30, 40 and 50 home runs in a season? But who was second? Off the top of my head, I know that Roger Maris, also a New York Yankee at the time, was the second to hit at least 60, in 1961. The other seconds? I’d have to look them up and likely wouldn’t recognize the names once I found them.
As far as aviation milestones are concerned, it’s pretty much the same deal. Chuck Yeager was first to bust the sound barrier (aka Mach 1), but who was second? And what was the second supersonic plane? Chances are you don’t know—we didn’t. Even more than that, it’s often really hard to find out who those unfamous seconds were. So, here, we salute those who came in second in the race to immortality.
8. Second in space
The first person in space was Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who was aboard Vostok 1 when it entered space on April 12, 1961. We fully expected the second in space to be some Soviet Cosmonaut we had never heard of before, but, unlike many unfamous seconds, the second person is space was as famous as the first. He was Alan Shepard, whose fame was helped more than a little by being the first American in space at a time when America was working hard to win back the glory from a Soviet space program that had gotten into space first. Shepard’s flight came less than a month after Gagarin’s famous first.