For entry into the baseball, football or basketball halls of fame, inductees must have attained a very high standard of performance in their game, demonstrating excellence over a long period of time.
Likewise honoring such excellence and preserving history along the way, the Astronaut Hall of Fame near NASA's Kennedy Space Center connects generations of space explorers from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Space Shuttle programs.
NASA's C. Gordon Fullerton "in the office" at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center. NASA photo by Tony Landis.
C. Gordon Fullerton, former astronaut and current NASA research pilot, fits the inductee profile to a "T." Flying Space Shuttles, 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and NASA's high-performance research jets, Fullerton's career connects several of these eras to the present.
Fullerton, along with fellow astronauts Bruce McCandless and Joe Allen, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on April 30, 2005.
Fullerton, known fondly by associates as "Gordo," began his illustrious NASA career serving on the support crews for the Apollo 14, 15, 16, and 17 lunar missions. After working side-by-side with America's moonwalkers, waiting in the wings ended for Gordo in 1977 when he was assigned to one of the two flight crews that piloted the Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise during the Approach and Landing Test Program at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California.
With a hint of dry wit, Gordo remembers that one of the most challenging parts of the Enterprise test flights occurred on the ground following captive carry flights during which the Enterprise remained attached to the top of the 747.
"Exit from the Enterprise to a small cherry picker platform 60 feet off the ground was a challenge, especially on windy days," Fullerton said. "We had to step across a gap from one to the other. Now that took some nerve."
As Fullerton and Fred Haise of Apollo 13 fame became the first two men to land a Shuttle, Gordo was more than ready for his next assignment, that of piloting the eight-day STS-3 Space Shuttle orbital flight test mission that occurred Mar. 22-30, 1982. The mission exposed the orbiter Columbia to extremes in thermal stress and tested the Shuttle's 50-foot robotic arm used to grapple and maneuver payloads in orbit. STS-3 landed at White Sands, N.M., because Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards was wet due to heavy seasonal rains.
Off into space again, Fullerton commanded the STS-51F Spacelab 2 mission, launched on July 29, 1985. This mission, with the orbiter Challenger, got off to a more exciting than usual start. During ascent, one of the orbiter's three main engines abruptly shut down, but with help from mission control Gordo and pilot Roy Bridges continued the mission with an "abort to orbit" achieved by burning the remaining two engines longer.
The rest of the flight went well and was the first pallet-only Spacelab mission. In addition, it carried 13 major science experiments. The mission ended August 6, 1985, with a landing at NASA Dryden.
After leaving the astronaut cops and moving back to California in 1986, Gordo continued his love of flying unique flight research missions at NASA Dryden.
As the project pilot on the NASA B-52B launch aircraft, Fullerton flew the first six air launches of the commercially developed Pegasus space vehicle. Piloting the B-52B, he flew several air launches of the X-38 Crew Return Vehicle prototype and the X-43A Hyper-X scramjet propulsion project.
In addition, Gordo was the project pilot on the Propulsion Controlled Aircraft program, during which he successfully landed both a modified F-15 fighter and an MD-11 transport with all control surfaces neutralized, using only engine thrust for control.
Assigned to evaluate the flying qualities of the Russian Tu-144 supersonic transport during two flights in 1998, he reached a speed of Mach 2 and became one of only two non-Russian pilots to fly that aircraft.
As Chief Pilot at NASA Dryden, Gordo still enjoys flying NASA's research jets as often as he can.
Fullerton holds many honors and awards from his long career. His likeness is even represented as a bobble-head doll. Flying cool aircraft and spacecraft has its perks.
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center