April 24, 2001
Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
David Mathieson Walker (Capt., USN, Ret.), veteran of four space shuttle missions including flights that rescued and deployed satellites, died April 23 following a sudden and brief illness. He was 56 years old.
Walker was selected by NASA in January 1978 and became an astronaut in August 1979. During his four missions he logged more than 700 hours in space.
“The NASA community has lost a great friend and an admired colleague,” said Johnson Space Center Director (Acting) Roy S. Estess. “Highly and deservedly decorated for his many achievements both as a Navy captain and as a NASA astronaut, Captain Walker served his country with distinction. His successful shuttle missions were indispensable in helping NASA further the exploration of space and enhance life on Earth.”
Walker first served as pilot on STS 51-A, the second flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery, in November 1984. During the nearly eight-day flight, the crew deployed two communications satellites and conducted the first space salvage mission in history, retrieving two inoperable communications satellites for return to Earth.
In his first space flight as a shuttle commander, Atlantis’ STS-30 mission in May 1989, Walker and his crew successfully deployed the Magellan spacecraft, the first planetary probe to be released from the space shuttle. Magellan arrived at Venus in August 1990 and mapped 95 percent of the surface of the planet. Crewmembers also worked on secondary payloads involving fluid research and chemistry during the four-day mission.
Walker next commanded a five-member crew on STS-53 in December 1992 aboard Discovery. His crew deployed a classified Department of Defense payload and performed experiments during its seven-day mission.
Walker flew his final mission as a shuttle commander in September 1995. The STS-69 crew deployed and retrieved two payloads during the nearly 11-day flight aboard Endeavour. The Wake Shield Facility, a saucer-shaped satellite that flew free of the shuttle for several days, was deployed to grow thin films in the near perfect vacuum created by the wake of the satellite as it moved through space. The other payload, the Spartan-201 astronomy satellite, helped researchers study the outer atmosphere of the Sun and its transition into the solar wind that constantly flows past the Earth. Crewmembers also performed a six-hour space walk to test assembly techniques for the International Space Station.
Walker was born in Columbus, Ga., May 20, 1944, and was raised in the family home in Eustis, Fla. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1966.
Following his graduation from Annapolis, Walker received flight training from the Naval Aviation Training Command at bases in Florida, Mississippi and Texas. Designated a Naval aviator in December 1967, he proceeded to Naval Air Station Miramar in California for assignment to fly F-4 Phantoms from the carriers USS Enterprise and USS America.
In January 1972, he was assigned as an experimental and engineering test pilot in the flight test division at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Md. While there, he participated in the Navy’s preliminary evaluation and Board of Inspection and Survey trials of the F-14 Tomcat and tested a leading edge slat modification to the F-4 Phantom.
Three years later, Walker was assigned to Fighter Squadron 142, stationed at Naval Air Station Oceana, Va., as a fighter pilot and was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea twice aboard USS America.
He logged more than 7,500 hours flying time including more than 6,500 hours in jet aircraft.
Walker retired from NASA in April 1996. Until his illness, he was active as the president of the Idaho Aviation Foundation, a non-profit corporation promoting general aviation in the state of Idaho.
Walker’s honors and awards included the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the National Intelligence Medal of Achievement, the Legion of Merit, two Defense Meritorious Service Medals, six Navy Air Medals, the Battle Efficiency Ribbon, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, four NASA Space Flight Medals, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, the Vietnam Service Medal, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Survivors include his wife, Paige, and two children, Michael and Mathieson.
A private memorial service will be held Friday at the Johnson Space Center. No public services are planned. Interment will take place in May at Arlington National Cemetery.
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