Trio of Shuttle Astronauts Join Hall of Fame
George 'Pinky' Nelson, Bill Shepherd and Jim Wetherbee Image above: George "Pinky" Nelson, Bill Shepherd and Jim Wetherbee joined the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame during a ceremony attended by 24 members of the Hall, including veterans from Apollo. The three newest members of the Hall of Fame flew during NASA's space shuttle era. Photo credit: NASA
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Commanding five of six space shuttle missions and guiding Discovery to within 30 feet of space station Mir might inflate anyone’s ego.

But not astronaut Jim Wetherbee. His wife, Robin, manages to keep the space explorer grounded. After coming home from a mission, Wetherbee said his wife told him: "Great flight, big boy. Now take out the garbage."

Humility was one of the many things Wetherbee gave thanks to as he joined George “Pinky” Nelson and William Shepherd for induction into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on May 2.

About 600 people honored the trio as they increased the number of space explorers enshrined in the hall of fame to 73.

This eighth group of space shuttle astronauts was welcomed to the ranks of legendary space pioneers, such as Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Sally Ride and John Young. Earlier inductees represent the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz programs.

Along with his space shuttle endeavors, Wetherbee also served as deputy director and director of Flight Crew Operations at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Today, he is a safety auditor with BP Global, one of the largest energy companies in the world.

“I’ve learned a lot over my prestigious career,” Wetherbee said. “I really appreciate everything I’ve learned.”

Nelson was a member of the first spacewalking team to repair a satellite in Earth's orbit. He flew three space shuttle missions during the 11 years he was in the Astronaut Corps, from 1978 to 1989. Nelson claims the distinction of being the only American to test-fly the Russian Manned Maneuvering Unit, which he did in 1989 in Moscow. He now serves as director of the Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Program at Western Washington University.

“Every giant leap is really made up of many small steps,” Nelson said. “I’m proud to have played a part in some of those steps.”

Shepherd, a four-time space shuttle astronaut and recipient of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, was assigned to NASA from the U.S. Navy SEALs community. Shepherd is widely known for filming segments of “Space Station,” an award-winning IMAX 3-D film depicting the ground development and on-orbit construction of the International Space Station. He commanded the first mission to the space station and lived and worked there for 141 days, from October 2000 to March 2001.

Shepherd is now the science advisor to U.S. Special Operations Command, where he manages to develop new technologies and capabilities for the nation’s special operations forces.

“I feel very privileged to be part of the Astronaut Corps,” Shepherd said, “and to be put in space by the folks who work (at Kennedy) to build vehicles and help operate them.”

Also introduced at the ceremony were 24 existing members of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame: John Blaha, Vance Brand, Dan Brandenstein, Bob Cabana, Scott Carpenter, Robert Crippen, Walt Cunningham, Charles Duke, Gordon Fullerton, Owen Garriott, Ed Gibson, Robert "Hoot" Gibson, Richard Gordon, Fred Gregory, Hank Hartsfield, Rick Hauck, Steven Hawley, Jeff Hoffman, James Lovell, Bruce McCandless, Edgar Mitchell, Brewster Shaw, Loren Shriver and Al Worden.

Frank Ochoa-Gonzales
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center