C. Gordon Fullerton, pioneering space shuttle pilot
Col. C. Gordon Fullerton, an astronaut who was involved in NASA’s earliest ventures and in the success of its space shuttle program, died on Wednesday in California.
In Pictures NASA's Space Shuttle
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
NASA announced his death in a statement.
Col. Fullerton, a member of the NASA astronaut class of 1969, was both an Air Force and a NASA test pilot, heading multiple test missions that made possible the space shuttle program. His credits in his nearly five-decade career include critically important test flights on the first space shuttle, the Enterprise, and 382 space-flight hours logged on two dangerous early space shuttle missions.
RECOMMENDED: Are you scientifically literate? Take our quiz
Fullerton, originally from Portland, Oregon, joined the US Air Force in 1958 after graduating with a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology that year. That was one year after the Soviet Union had begun sending unmanned satellites into space, one of which ferried upward a dog, and the same year that the United States put up into space its own first satellite, Explorer 1. Space flight, in other words, had just begun.
Fullerton was first trained as a B-47 bomber pilot at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. In 1964, he was selected to attend what was then called the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School (now the Air Force Test Pilot School) in California, and after graduation was assigned as a test pilot with the Bomber Operations Division in Ohio.
In 1969, Fullerton was selected for that year’s astronaut class. This was the same year as the Apollo 11 mission, which landed the first humans on the moon. Relocated to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas, Fullerton served on the support crews for the subsequent Apollo 14, 15, 16, and 17 lunar missions.
As the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union began to take on high-octane urgency, NASA began to pursue a new goal: the space shuttle program. This spacecraft, unlike the Apollo spacecraft that made parachute landings in the ocean, would be reusable. It would need to land like an airplane, gliding horizontally to a safe stop on a runway.