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  • Writer's pictureAeryn Avilla

That Time There was an Eighth Mercury Astronaut

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

In 1959, the same year as the selection of the Mercury Seven Astronauts, comedian Bill Dana created the character José Jiménez who soon became known as the "Reluctant Astronaut". The catch phrase, "My José Jiménez," became well-known in homes throughout the US— including those of the astronauts themselves. Though modern critics deem this routine "distasteful" by today's standards (despite what's on TV now), this act was one of the most popular out there. Even though he typically made small jabs at the crudeness of the manned space program, the Mercury Seven welcomed him as one of their own: They quickly made him an honorary member of the Mercury Seven as well as their unofficial mascot. He was forever immortalized in spaceflight history during the launch of Alan Shepard when Deke Slayton radioed, "Okay, José, you're on your way!" In fact, Shepard earned himself the nickname of "José" due to his uncanny impressions of the character. As the decade went on, Dana realized that the ethnic humor portrayed in Jiménez was offensive and killed off the character in 1979— literally. There was even a mock funeral for him on Sunset Boulevard in California. Still, the legacy of Dana's character lives on as he has been referenced in TV and film for the past sixty years, in everything from Farscape to Seinfeld.

Interestingly enough, Bill Dana did fly into space. William H. Dana was a test pilot in the X-15 program who flew fifty-nine miles high and is officially recognized as an astronaut.

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