I had read that the early astronauts were all 'short guys'. This made a lot of sense. A short man can have as much stamina and endurance as a large man, yet eat less, consume less oxygen & (mainly) is less grams to haul to 7+ Kilometers per second, & 200+ Kilometers up.

Even for the small guys, the capsules did not seem to have a great deal of space inside (yeah, OK, they wanted to keep the 'space' outside, but you get my point, I hope).

As such, when I watched the Apollo 13 movie, I'd presumed the movie makers had to 'scale up' the module, to allow the (lanky) actors to not look like they'd been stuffed in a sardine can.

So I was about to post a question on what scale the set was, and thought I'd better get some hard data on the relevant people.


Tom Hanks - According to IMDB he is 1.83 meters tall. No surprises there. It is quite common for actors to be tall. When you see a tall person on film, they look 'average sized', whereas an 'average sized' person on film tends to look small.

So let's move to the astronauts themselves..


Jim Lovell - according to Google he is 1.80 meters in height.

The IMDB(?!?) page on Jack Swigert suggests he is 1.83 meters tall.

Fred Haise, the 'little guy' of the 3, is 1.78 meters tall according to this page.

I myself am 1.68 meters tall. I do not regard myself as either tall or short, but of average height. All 3 of the Apollo 13 astronauts are at least 10cm taller than I am, so they do not seem to be 'little guys'.

So that brings me to my question. Did NASA ever have either a policy or even a 'notable preference' for short astronauts? If so, when did that end?

  • $\begingroup$ But did they rescale the Apollo 13 set to better accommodate the actors, and probably the camera equipment? $\endgroup$
    – SAnderka
    Jan 7 '15 at 9:30
  • $\begingroup$ @SAnderka "..and probably the camera equipment?" They probably used a cutaway set(s) for the camera equipment, and I don't think from those measurements (i.e. Jack Swigert is the tallest astronaut and he's exactly as tall as Tom Hanks) that they'd have needed to scale the set for the actors. $\endgroup$ Jan 7 '15 at 9:36
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    $\begingroup$ I hate to break it to you, according to Wikipedia he average height of Australian men is around 176cm, which is 8cm taller than you. The same article says that the average height of white American men in the early 2000s was 180cm. It was probably slightly less than that during the Apollo era but all of the Americans you mention in your question are of roughly average height for their population. $\endgroup$ Jan 7 '15 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for "they wanted to keep the 'space' outside", I snorted and got a weird look from my office mate $\endgroup$
    – Bear
    Dec 16 '16 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ "Average height" varies by country. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Jul 23 '19 at 6:20

Alan Shepard is 1.80

John Glenn is 1.79

To quote Mercury Seven wikipedia page:

Because of the small space inside the Mercury spacecraft, candidates could be no taller than 5 feet 11 inches (180 cm) and weigh no more than 180 pounds (82 kg).

Now, to your question:

when did that end?

the answer is: it didn't. The requirements have been just relaxed a little bit.

One of the answers to the question "What medical conditions can impede someone from going into space?" states:


Height between 62 and 75 inches. (1.57 to 1.90)

Mission Specialists

Height between 58.5 and 76 inches. (1.49 to 1.93)

The common trend is to relax the limit. And this is not NASA specific at all.

For example, as you probably remember, the A in Soyuz-TMA stands for Anthropometric.

  • Soyuz-TM allowed 1.64 to 1.82

  • Soyuz-TMA allows 1.50 to 1.90

Now, who was short in the end???

Yuri Gagarin was (ta-da!) 1.57.

The first Soviet Cosmonaut Squad had the limit of 1.75 (or by some other sources even 1.70)

  • $\begingroup$ "Anthropometric"! Learned a new word today. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 24 '16 at 11:16

NASA probably learned a lot of lessons following the development of Gemini. Astronaut Gus Grissom (170cm) was instrumental in the cockpit layout and design, and they even nicknamed the spacecraft the Gusmobile, since it's rumoured he was the only one able to fit into it (I read somewhere that it wasn't just Gus who fit, but that a majority of the original astronaut team had problems). Their helmets were touching the hatch when it was closed, and the lack of room made getting in and out of space suits very difficult. NASA revisited the design of the seating to make a bit more room for the remaining astronauts.

For reference, go here and search the page for "Gusmobile": http://www.astronautix.com/g/gemini.html

Apollo, being larger (NASA learned some lessons?) introduced it's own problems, since with the increased room came increated mobility, and with all the moving around astronauts sometimes became very space-sick.

To also show that maybe some lessons have been learned, the modern American space suit used on the ISS is able to fit the 5th-95th percentile of Americans which allows NASA great flexibility in choosing crew members. Compare to the Russian Sokol suit which only allows the 40-60th percentile, and cosmonauts must fit this profile. (ref: http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4225/nasa4/nasa4.htm search page for "EMU" - date of info unknown). The ISS is also extremely large in comparison, with a dedicated roof and floor to help orientation and reduce space sickness.

And finally a bit of speculation, although I don't have any information on the scale of the set for Apollo 13 film, the control panel is really accurately produced, and when compared to photos of inside Apollo I thought it gave a decent representation. Having seen one with my own eyes, the movies (even the real movies) somehow all make it look bigger and roomier. Maybe it's the weightlessness.

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    $\begingroup$ As you lose weight everything gets more roomy. $\endgroup$ Sep 24 '16 at 10:40

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