Three NASA shuttle-era astronauts, two of them women, were inducted into the U. S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Those honored in ceremonies at the Hall, close to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla., included Eileen Collins, the first woman to pilot and command a shuttle mission; Curt Brown, who served as the commander or pilot of six shuttle missions, and Bonnie Dunbar, a shuttle mission specialist and bio-medical engineer who launched aboard five shuttle flights.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was among those who greeted and honored the hall’s newest members.
“Many like me came to NASA intending to go to the moon and then on to Mars,” recalled Bolden, who served along side the new members as a shuttle astronaut, himself. However, the agency’s post-Apollo focus was on the shuttle and the assembly of the International Space Station. Currently, NASA is in a measured transition with the developments of the Space Launch System and the Orion crew vehicle, spacecraft intended to start future astronauts on missions to the asteroids and Mars.
“Today, for the first time in my lifetime we are on the precipice of being able to do that,” Bolden noted.
Collins was selected by NASA for astronaut training in 1990, while an Air Force test pilot. Over four missions, Collins visited Russia’s former Mir space station and the International Space Station and launched the Chandra X-Ray Space Telescope.
In 1995, the New York native became the first female to pilot a shuttle mission, a flight that rendezvoused with Russia’s former Mir space station. The flight paved the way for a series of future shuttle docking missions to Mir that permitted Americans to serve as crew members.
She earned a command on her third flight, a 1999 mission that placed Chandra into a looping orbit around the Earth. In 2005, Collins served as commander of the mission that led the U. S.back into space following the 2003 shuttle Columbia tragedy.
“Why am I here? It’s all about opportunity,” Collins told those gathered Saturday’s ceremonies. “It’s such a great feeling to stand there and watch a rocket launch and know you are part of that mission.”
Since her retirement from NASA, Collins has focused some of her energies on STEM education — helping to make sure the U. S. has adequate numbers of students skilled in the sciences, technology, engineering and math — fields that keep the nation strong and prosperous.
“Pick a career that will be needed,” she counseled the students present for the induction ceremonies. “It will not only be good for the country, it will make you happy in your job.”
Brown, a U. S. Air Force test pilot, was selected by NASA for astronaut training in 1987 pilot. He flew a half-dozen missions, half them as the commander. In 1998, he ushered then U. S. Senator John Glenn into space aboard shuttle Discovery. In 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth as one of NASA’s original Mercury astronauts.
The oldest of the Mercury seven, Glenn was unable to move on to the Gemini and Apollo programs. But after successful careers in business and politics, Glenn found support for passage on a shuttle flight on which he served as a subject in a range of medical experiments. At 77, Glenn became the oldest human to fly in space.
He also led a 1999 shuttle mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.
“As far as I can remember, I wanted to fly,” said Brown, a North Carolina native. “Dreams are very very important. That is what made this country great. Dreams are what made NASA such a great institution and so successful. They determine who we are and what we do in life. My dream was to fly. My dream came true.
Dunbar recently joined the engineering faculty of the University of Houston, where she also heads the school’s Science Technology, Engineering and Math Center.
She was selected by NASA for astronaut training in 1981, following three years as a member of NASA’s Mission Control Center as a guidance officer. In that role, Dunbar was among those who prepared for the 1975 re-entry of the U. S. Skylab space station.
As a mission specialist, she launched five times and was a member of the first shuttle crew to dock with Russia’s former Mir space station. After leaving NASA in 2005, Dunbar returned to her native Washington to serve as president and CEO of the Museum of Flight of Seattle.
In her induction remarks, Dunbar recalled that as a young child she was drawn to the night skies.
“It was like I was being sucked out. I knew this is what I’ve got to do with the rest of my life,” she recalled of her first desires to become an astronauts.
“I want to build space ships and fly them.”,” she confided to a middle school instructor. “It was my parents who taught me that hard work, persistence and the quest for knowledge is important.”