Thursday, December 17, 2009

Four To Be Inducted Into Astronaut Hall Of Fame

The first African-American to fly in space, the International Space Station commanders at the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Columbia accident, and one of the world's most accomplished female spacewalkers will be inducted next year into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Selected by a group that includes current members of the Hall of Fame, veteran NASA and contractor engineers and aerospace journalists, the Class of 2010 will include:

Guion Bluford, 67, became the first African-American to fly in space in 1983, when he launched aboard Challenger on the STS-8 mission. The flight marked the first night launch and the first night landing for the shuttle program. Bluford and his crewmates deployed a satellite for India, tested the shuttle's Canadian-built robot arm and carried out a bevy of science experiments.

Bluford also served as a mission specialist on STS-61A, the German D-1 Spacelab mission, in late 1985. Also on Challenger, it was the first flight to carry eight crew members, including three European payload specialists. He flew two additional shuttle missions: STS-39, a semi-classified Department of Defense mission in April 1991, and STS-53, a classified DoD mission, in December 1992. Both those flights were aboard the orbiter Discovery.

Frank Culbertson, 60, was the commander aboard the International Space Station for Expedition 3, which was ongoing when terrorists hijacked commercial airliners and then flew them into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth airliner crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers valiantly prevented the hijackers from hitting another target -- believed to be either the White House or the Capitol building -- in Washington.

Check out the poignant letters Culbertson wrote on the day of the attack and in its immediate aftermath HERE.

Culbertson also piloted a top-secret Department of Defense mission in 1990. The flight marked the first post-Challenger landing at Kennedy Space Center. He also commanded a 1993 mission to deploy the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite.

In addition, Culbertson was the program manager for NASA's shuttle-Mir project. Nine shuttle missions to Russia's space station Mir were conducted as part of that program; seven U.S. astronauts served tours of duty on the Mir outpost.

Ken Bowersox, 53, was the commander aboard the International Space Station in February 2003 when shuttle Columbia and seven astronauts were lost during an ill-fated atmospheric reentry. He and his Expedition 6 crewmates returned to Earth in early May 2003 after a 5 1/2-month tour aboard the outpost.

Bowersox also flew four shuttle missions between 1992 and 1997, including two to the Hubble Space Telescope. He was the pilot of the December 1993 mission to repair the observatory, which was launched with a primary mirror that proved to be misshapen. He also commanded the second Hubble servicing mission in February 1997.

His other two shuttle flights: STS-50 and STS-73, both of which were microgravity research missions.

Bowersox also served as the Chief of the Astronaut Office Safety Branch, Chairman of NASA's Spaceflight Safety Panel, and Director of the Flight Crew Operations Directorate at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Kathy Thornton, 57, served as a mission specialist and spacewalker on two of NASA's most exciting shuttle flights: STS-49, a mission to rescue and relaunch a commercial communications satellite stuck in low Earth orbit; and STS-61, the mission to save the Hubble Space Telescope.

The STS-49 flight was the maiden voyage of the orbiter Endeavour, which was built to replace Challenger, the spaceship lost in a January 1986 in-flight explosion. Thornton and her crewmates manually captured a satellite that had been launched into the wrong orbit. Then they outfitted it with a new upper stage rocket motor and launched it from Endeavour's cargo bay into its intended orbit 22,300 miles above Earth.

Thornton also flew as a mission specialist on STS-33, a classified Department of Defense mission. And she was a crewmate of Bowersox and the payload commander on STS-73, a microgravity research mission in 1995. She has logged more than 975 hours in space including 21 hours of spacewalking work.

The quartet of veteran space fliers will be enshrined in the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on June 5, 2010. A public induction ceremony will be held that day at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.


Anonymous said...

Are there many astronauts that would NOT qualify to be an Astronaut Hall of Fame??? Maybe a few that never flew?? This seems like another excuse for a fund raising dinner, and another plaque that an astronaut will have to put in their storage building somewhere.

Anonymous said...

I think few realize that proceeds from this "excuse for a fund raising dinner" (as the previous poster put it) go to funding the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation ( The eighteen $10,000 merit-based scholarships that this foundation awards per year are perhaps the most prestigious science and engineering scholarships in the country. With the nation's tremendous need for scientists and engineers, I am disappointed when I see comments like those of the previous poster. Even if every astronaut could qualify for the hall of fame (which is not true), I hope there is some agreement that the future of U.S. science and technology leadership is a worthy cause.