More than 20 elite astronauts, all members of the Astronaut Hall of Fame, met at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Saturday, April 20, 2013, to welcome the newest inductees into the Hall of Fame.
This celebration marked the first time that two women have entered the Hall of Fame at the same time, with the induction of Bonnie Dunbar and Eileen Collins, alongside fellow shuttle astronaut Curt Brown. With this year’s inductions, the Astronaut Hall of Fame now has 85 members, including space pioneers such as Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Sally Ride, Neil Armstrong, and John Young.
Obviously, it is no small feat to be selected to join such a prestigious group of astronauts, and this is only the 12th group of nominees to receive such honors. The list of achievements of these three astronauts is indicative of the type of dedication and experience required to attain such status.
Eileen Collins was the first woman chosen to pilot a space shuttle, and later was appointed as the first woman to command a shuttle mission. She commanded two such missions, including STS-114, known as Return to Flight, after the tragic loss of Space Shuttle Columbia. She is a retired Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, and logged more than 872 hours in space over 4 missions.
Bonnie Dunbar has a Ph.D. in Mechanical / Biomedical Engineering, and is the recipient of numerous awards, including NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Award. She served on five shuttle missions with over 1,208 hours in space as a shuttle mission specialist and payload commander. Two of her missions had the largest crews (8 people) of any shuttle flights. STS-61-A had 8 crew members through the entire mission, while STS-71 launched with 7 people, but landed on earth with 8 people, including Norm Thagard , returning from the Russian Space Station Mir.
Curt Brown is also a retired USAF Colonel, and served on six total shuttle missions – three as a pilot, and three as commander. He was the commander of STS-95, alongside a returning veteran (and now fellow Hall of Fame member), Senator John Glenn, who in 1962 was the first American to orbit the Earth. Brown has logged an incredible 1,388+ hours in space, in addition to over 6,000 hours in jet aircraft.
The ceremonies included presentations from NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, KSC Director Robert Cabana, and Charlie Duke, Chair of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation – all of whom are also members of the Astronaut Hall of Fame. Other participants included the Master of Ceremonies, CNN correspondent John Zarrella, and Presentation of the Colors by the Girl Scouts of Citrus Council. Kelty Zavitz of Girl Scout Troop 1412 did an outstanding job with her rendition of the National Anthem.
The new inductees echoed the words of current members of the Astronaut Hall of Fame in their agreement that this ceremony isn’t just about them. In fact, all three were humble in their statements during interviews with the media and from the stage, recognizing that they are role models, but preferring that the focus be on the availability of opportunities to the youth wanting to be involved in the space program – that the dream is attainable for those that work hard in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) studies.
Presentations made by the inductees, as well as those welcoming them, included humorous stories about their time in the astronaut corps, in addition to reminders of the lessons learned from the Challenger and Columbia disasters.
Alongside the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center hosted other exciting opportunities for the public to interact with Hall of Fame astronauts. This included a private Meet and Greet with astronauts Hoot Gibson, John Blaha, Jeff Hoffman and Loren Shriver, as well as autograph signing sessions with astronauts Robert Crippen who piloted the first shuttle mission (STS-1), and Mission Specialist Kathy Thornton, the first American woman to perform an EVA (spacewalk) .
All three members of this year’s inductees flew on shuttle Atlantis at least once, and many of the Hall of Fame members participated in a tour of the new Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction, slated to open at the Visitor Center on June 29, 2013. Atlantis will be the centerpiece of this new exhibit showcasing the science, technology, people and hardware involved with the Space Program.
Paid admission to the KSC Visitor Center also includes admission to the neighboring U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, featuring historic spacecraft and the world’s largest collection of personal astronaut memorabilia. The Hall of Fame and Museum opens daily at noon on days that the Visitor Center is open to the public, and both are only 45 minutes from Orlando. For more information, visit kennedyspacecenter.com.
[All photos courtesy of Kirk Garreans for CitySurfing Orlando.]