This week, as NASA’s Orion spacecraft heads for the moon, we continue the look into the history of Virginia astronauts. A few of them made big headlines.
David McDowell Brown, from Arlington, received a B.S. in biology from the College of William and Mary before going on to earn a doctorate in medicine from Eastern Virginia Medical School. He joined the Navy, and after completing flight surgeon training, he reported to the Navy Branch Hospital in Adak, Alaska. He was awarded the Navy Operational Flight Surgeon of the Year in 1986, and in 1988, he was the only flight surgeon in a 10-year period to be chosen for pilot training. He was designated a naval aviator in 1990.
Brown was selected by NASA in 1996, and after completing two years of training he became eligible for flight assignment as a mission specialist. He would be assigned to mission STS-107 on board the Space Shuttle Columbia, which would carry the SPACEHAB Double Research Module for its first flight.
The crew on STS-107 conducted 80 experiments in the module during the almost 16-day mission. But disaster struck when Columbia began coming home. Some of the thermal protection tiles on the orbiter’s left wing were damaged on liftoff. The heat of re-entry burned into the wing and eventually caused a break-up of the shuttle in the sky over Texas, killing the crew.
Brown is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Another Virginia astronaut that made headlines, for all the wrong reasons, is William Anthony Oefelein, who was born in Fort Belvior.
Oefelein received a B.S. in electrical engineering from Oregon State University in 1988 and later earned a master’s in aviation systems from the University of Tennessee Space Institute. He joined the Navy and became a Naval aviator and was deployed to the Persian Gulf. He would later graduate from the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School in 1995.
In 1998, Oefelein was selected by NASA as part of Astronaut Group 17. After two years of training he became a space shuttle pilot and was eventually assigned to Space Shuttle Discovery and mission STS-116. The 12-day mission continued the construction of the International Space Station.
Five months later, Oefelein’s career as an astronaut took a serious hit. His former girlfriend, astronaut Lisa Nowak, drove across the country to attack his current girlfriend, Colleen Shipman.
Nowak was arrested in Orlando, Florida, after she followed and pepper-sprayed Shipman. During the investigation, it was learned that Oefelein had given Nowak, who was married, a cell phone and the two had talked several times since his return from space. Oefelein told investigators he had broken off the relationship but that he and Nowak trained for a bicycle race and went to the gym together. Nowak agreed to a plea deal and pleaded guilty to charges of felony burglary of a car and misdemeanor battery.
Oefelein and Nowak were dismissed from NASA due to their behavior. They were the first two astronauts ever dismissed, and NASA created a Code of Conduct for astronauts due to their actions.
Oefelein is not the only astronaut born in Fort Belvior, Virginia.
John L. Phillips is the first of the two astronauts born in Fort Belvior. After graduating second in his class at the U.S. Naval Academy, he went on to earn a master’s degree in aeronautical systems from the University of West Florida, followed by masters and doctorates in geophysics and space physics from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Phillips was selected by NASA in 1996, and after completing his training, followed by duties at the Johnson Space Center, his flew into space twice.
On April 19, 2001, Phillips rode Space Shuttle Endeavour on mission STS-100 to install the Canadarm2 Robotic Arm on the International Space Station that was then under construction.
He would return to space on April 15, 2005, on board a Russian Soyuz as part of Expedition 11 to crew the ISS. During this time, Phillips became the first person ever to testify before Congress from space. Using a live video feed from the station, Phillips gave testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Science Space Subcommittee on the usefulness of the ISS as an orbiting laboratory.
Astronaut Robert Lee Satcher Jr., of Hampton, Virginia, earned a doctorate in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before heading to Harvard Medical School to receive his medical doctorate. He was selected by NASA in 2004 and completed his training in 2006.
On Nov. 16, 2009, Satcher rode Space Shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-129 to the ISS along with fellow Virginia astronaut Leland Melvin and Tennessee astronaut and pilot Barry Wilmore as part of a seven-person crew.
During the mission, Satcher would take part in two spacewalks for a total of 12 hours and 19 minuets of EVA (extra vehicular activity). On the fifth day of the mission, Satcher teamed up with Melvin for interviews from space with ESPN’s SportsCenter, Black Entertainment Television News and WRIC-TV in Richmond, Virginia.
Our last Virginia astronaut this week is Guy Gardner from Altavista.
Gardner is another of the many astronauts that are Boy Scouts, achieving the rank of Life Scout. He received a B.S. degree with majors in astronautics, mathematics and engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1969, followed by a master’s degree in astronautics from Purdue University. He flew an F-4 Phantom on 177 combat missions in Southeast Asia while stationed in Udorn, Thailand, in the early ’70s.
Gardner was selected by NASA in 1980 and flew into space twice. The first time was as pilot of Space Shuttle Atlantis to deliver a Department of Defense payload into orbit on mission STS-27. The mission was successful, but Atlantis suffered damage to some of its thermal protection tiles — very much like the damage that would later destroy Space Shuttle Columbia.
Gardner’s next mission was as the pilot of Space Shuttle Columbia on STS-35 to deploy the ASTRO-1 astronomy laboratory.
Gardner left NASA in 1991 to command the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He would later return to NASA to direct the joint U.S.-Russian Shuttle-Mir Program.
This week’s column wraps-up the 10 astronauts from Virginia that have flown into space. In writing this column, I noticed there have been no women from Virginia who have flown into space. Will one of you readers be the first?
Readers may email Ned at firstname.lastname@example.org.