Three Explorers Inducted into Astronaut Hall of Fame
Three space explorers were inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) in Florida on May 5. Franklin R. Chang Diaz, Kevin P. Chilton and Charlie Precourt became the 11th group of space shuttle astronauts to join the ranks of the distinguished members of the Hall of Fame.
KSCVC Chief Operating Officer William Moore welcomed guests to the visitor complex.
“Once again, it is a privilege to host the induction ceremony and to be a part of this momentous occasion where so many astronaut heroes gather each year to recognize and welcome a chosen few into the ranks of this elite group of space explorers.”
John Zarrella, CNN’s principal correspondent for coverage of NASA’s space program, served as Master of Ceremonies and introduced the attending members of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame as they came forward and took their seats on the stage.
Hall of Famer and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana said it’s great to have Chang Diaz, Chilton and Precourt, three outstanding inductees, back in Florida. “My sincere congratulations on a well-deserved honor,” Cabana said.
“In spite of what some of you may have heard, the ending of the shuttle program has not ended human spaceflight at NASA and Kennedy is not shutting down,” Cabana said. “We continue to make great strides in becoming a multi-user government and commercial spaceport of the future.
“Our path forward continues to be challenging, but the Kennedy team is definitely up to the challenge and I know we’re going to excel,” Cabana said.
Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) Chairman and Hall of Fame astronaut Charlie Duke said the inductions are always a highlight of the year.
Hall of Famer George “Pinky” Nelson introduced Chang Diaz by saying he has continued to push the envelope.
“You’ve done incredible things and I really believe that your biggest impact is yet to come,” Nelson said.
“I’m a product of two cultures and this honor here has a special meaning to me because it’s given by those who have always been my heroes,” Chang Diaz said. “The folks here are the people that I looked up to.
“Today, I’m most thankful to this great nation that in 1968 opened the doors for me, a dreamer that came to the shores of this country, and this country opened the doors to the land of opportunity, to the American dream. I can say that I have fulfilled that dream,” Chang Diaz said.
Chang Diaz served in the astronaut program for 25 years and became one of only two astronauts to fly on seven space shuttle missions. His missions include STS-61-C, STS-34, STS-46, STS-60, STS-75, STS-91 and STS-111.
He logged more than 1,600 hours in space, including 19 hours and 31 minutes during three spacewalks. He helped deploy the SATCOM KU satellite, the European Retrievable Carrier satellite, the Tethered Satellite System, the Space Habitation Module-2, and the Galileo spacecraft on its journey to Jupiter.
On his final mission, STS-111, he installed the mobile base system on the International Space Station and replaced the failed wrist joint on Canadarm 2.
In 2005, Chang Diaz retired from NASA and went on to establish the Ad Astra Rocket Company, which is dedicated to the development of advanced plasma rocket propulsion technology.
Hall of Famer Dan Brandenstein introduced U.S. Air Force four-star General Kevin Chilton by reviewing his career in both NASA and the U.S. Air Force.
“Throughout his career he demonstrated exceptional intelligence, unparalleled devotion to duty and visionary planning,” Brandenstein said. “I am honored to welcome the newest member of the Astronaut Hall of Fame.”
“Thank you so much for this wonderful honor,” Chilton said.
Chilton is a three-time space shuttle astronaut with more than 700 hours in space. He served as pilot on STS-49, the maiden voyage of space shuttle Endeavour; and STS-59, which featured the deployment of the Space Radar Laboratory. He served as the commander of STS-76, which featured the third docking mission to the Russian space station Mir as well as the first spacewalk from the space shuttle while docked to Mir.
Chilton returned to the Air Force after an 11-year career with NASA and served in various positions, including Commander, United States Strategic Command, at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.
Hall of Famer Robert “Hoot” Gibson introduced Precourt and talked about learning Russian in order to prepare for his first mission to the Mir space station.
“After working with him and getting to know him I said I would be really surprised if he isn’t the chief astronaut one day,” Gibson said. “After four brilliant missions and three times going to Mir, including the very last docking in 1998, Charlie became the chief astronaut.
“He has gone right to the very top in everything he’s ever done. Congratulations Charlie and welcome to the Astronaut Hall of Fame,” Gibson said.
“This is a tremendous honor,” Precourt said. “It’s obviously very humbling and I’m just really thrilled to be here today.
“We’ve had opportunities in the space program that go beyond our wildest dreams and I’m very, very thrilled, in particular that this represents the work of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, who is paying it back, and we get to be a part of that for the students. Education is so critical.”
Charlie Precourt served in the space program for 15 years and was a mission specialist on STS-55, pilot on STS-71, and commander on STS-84 and STS-91. During those missions he logged a total of 932 hours in space.
During the STS-91 mission, which was the ninth and final Shuttle-Mir docking mission, the crew also conducted the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer experiment, which involved first of its kind research of antimatter in space.
Precourt left NASA in 2005 and currently serves as general manager and vice president of Space Launch Systems for ATK Aerospace Systems of Magna, Utah.
According to Duke, the ASF was founded in 1984 by the six surviving members of America’s original Mercury 7 astronauts. The foundation distributes 28, $10,000 scholarships annually and has awarded, since its inception, nearly $3.5 million.
ASF scholarships are the largest monetary award given in the United States to science and engineering students at the undergraduate level based solely on merit.
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center