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On the Shoulders of Giants
The three inductees enjoy the early moments of the ceremony. Astronauts, employees and patriotic space enthusiasts gathered on April 30 to induct three American space explorers into the Astronaut Hall of Fame at Kennedy Space Center's Visitor Complex in Florida. The event honored astronauts Joseph P. Allen, Gordon G. Fullerton and Bruce McCandless II with a ceremony highlighting their incredible achievement and years of dedication to extend the nation's reach into space.

Image to right: Astronauts McCandless II, Allen and Fullerton (starting second from left) are seated with Bernadette and Jim Kennedy. Credit: NASA/KSC

Actor LeVar Burton of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame served as the event's master of ceremonies. "I have been a part of a family that has traveled in space for over 18 years, and what we do in fantasy is what today's inductees have done in real life," Burton declared.

Kennedy Space Center Director Jim Kennedy continued echoing Burton's theme of family and achievement. "We are having a family reunion to pause and celebrate the accomplishment of three heroes of the American space flight program," Kennedy said.

The first astronaut to be honored was Gordon G. Fullerton, who has flown 144 different planes. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology. After an extensive career test-piloting military aircraft, he joined NASA as an astronaut and assisted with the final Apollo missions. In 1977, Fullerton began working with the Space Shuttle program as a member of a flight crew evaluating landings with the orbiter prototype "Enterprise." The launch of STS-3 was the Space Shuttle's third flight and Fullerton's first trip into space. An engine failure during launch on STS-51F put his piloting skills to the test. Fullerton successfully managed the challenge, becoming the first Space Shuttle commander to ever complete an abort into orbit.

Apollo 13 veteran Fred Hays introduced Fullerton to the crowd: "The thread through all of this is that he's a professional and he breeds success."

Hays made special note of Fullerton's sense of humor. " 'Gordo' had a subtle sense of humor: he likes one-line jokes." True to form, Fullerton quipped about his 47 years and counting as an active government pilot. "I'm among a small group of people who are F-18 pilots drawing Medicare."

Joseph P. Allen was the next astronaut welcomed into the ranks of the Hall of Fame. His academic credentials include a doctorate in philosophy of physics from Yale University. Allen was a nuclear physics researcher when NASA selected him to be an astronaut in 1967. Allen worked in various positions within NASA until he was tapped in 1981 to assist Johnson Space Center with the first Space Shuttle mission. The scientist's first flight came aboard STS-5 in 1982 on a mission to make the vehicle's first delivery of commercial satellites into space. Allen flew again aboard the Space Shuttle in 1985 on STS-51A, this time becoming the first spacewalker to retrieve a marooned satellite and return it to an orbiter.

Astronaut John Young called Allen "chock-full of brains" Before Allen took the stage. During his remarks, Allen recounted words uttered by Dr. Robert Oppenheimer during an award ceremony the astronaut attended. "There is no more important recognition than to be recognized and appreciated by one's friends and peers," quoted Allen. "I think today, for the first time, I recognize the sincere importance of what he meant."

The final inductee was Bruce McCandless II, who graduated second in his class from the U.S. Naval Academy. NASA chose him to be an astronaut in 1966. During his early years with the Agency, McCandless worked with such notable programs as Apollo and Skylab. The astronaut's first chance to fly in space arrived in 1984 on the STS-41B mission. During that mission, McCandless used the Manned Maneuvering Pack "jet pack" to become the first astronaut to flying in space untethered to another vehicle. His second and final flight was STS-31 in 1990 to help deploy the famous Hubble Space Telescope.

McCandless' STS-41B commander, Vance Brand, recalled marveling at the sight of McCandless floating free in space outside of the orbiter. "We were really glued to the window," said Brand. Quick to thank family, fellow astronauts and NASA, McCandless expressed his gratitude for everyone involved in his success.

McCandless summarized the sentiment of all the inductees: "We have truly ridden on the shoulders of giants."

Charlie Plain
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center