Categories: American Notables | United States Air Force | NASA Astronauts | MOL Project | Space Shuttle Astronauts | Space Shuttle Commander | Space Shuttle Pilot | Distinguished Flying Cross (United States) | NASA Distinguished Service Medal | NASA Exceptional Service Medal | NASA Space Flight Medal | United States Astronaut Hall of Fame | Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.
Charles Gordon Fullerton (October 11, 1936 – August 21, 2013) was a United States Air Force colonel, a USAF and NASA astronaut, and a research pilot at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Facility, Edwards, California.
|1936||Born in Rochester, Monroe, New York, USA.|
|1957||Bachelor of Science, California Institute of Technology.|
|1958||Master of Science, Mechanical Engineering, California Institute of Technology. Joined the Air Force.|
|1966||Selected for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, by USAF in USAF Group 2. |
|1969||Selected by NASA in Astronauts Group 7. |
|1977||Flew on five Shuttle Approach and Landing Tests Enterprise ALT-9, ALT-11, ALT-12, ALT-14, ALT-16 all with Fred Haise.|
|1978||Awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. ||
|1982||Flew on Columbia STS-3 as Pilot with Jack Lousma. Awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal, his first of 2, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, his first of 2. ||
|1985||Flew on Challenger STS-51-F as Commander with Roy Bridges, Story Musgrave, Anthony W. England, Loren Acton, John-David F. Bartoe, and Karl Henize. Awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal, his second of 2. |
|1988||Retired from the Air Force as Colonel. During his Air Force career, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.||
|2003||Awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, his second of 2. ||
|2005||Inducted into the US Astronaut Hall of Fame. |
|2007||Retired from NASA.|
|2013||Died in Lancaster, Los Angeles, California, USA.|
C. Gordon Fullerton, Early Space Shuttle Pilot, Dies at 76
Col. C. Gordon Fullerton, an astronaut who performed the first flight test of a space shuttle in 1977, then piloted two shuttle missions — including one in which an engine failed shortly after takeoff — died on Wednesday in Lancaster, Calif. He was 76.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said in a statement announcing the death that Colonel Fullerton had a severe stroke in 2009, after which he had lived in a nursing home in Lancaster.
As a test pilot for both the Air Force and NASA, Colonel Fullerton logged about 15,000 hours flying more than 130 different types of aircraft. In his two shuttle missions, he was the commander on board the Challenger and one of two pilots on the Columbia.
Both spacecraft failed in later flights with disastrous results, the Challenger breaking apart on its ascent over Florida in 1986 and the Columbia disintegrating in 2003 as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over Louisiana and Texas, both crews perishing.
Perhaps the most harrowing moment of Colonel Fullerton’s career came on July 29, 1985, when the Challenger lost one of its three main engines 5 minutes and 45 seconds after the launch. Colonel Fullerton ordered his crew to unstrap their flight harnesses in case they had to make a quick escape.
But with the help of technicians, astronauts and other NASA personnel, he was able to continue the mission and guide the shuttle and its six crew members into orbit, where they completed most of their scheduled scientific experiments.
“We breathed a great sigh of relief to get into orbit at all,” Burton Edelson, NASA’s associate administrator, said after the mission. “We all had our fingers crossed.”
The engine failure came after the flight had been delayed on July 12 because of engine problems.
Colonel Fullerton was chosen as an astronaut in the late 1960s but waited more than 15 years for his turn to fly a spacecraft. When that chance came, however, his first assignment did not take him out the Earth’s atmosphere.
Rather, on Aug. 12, 1977, he teamed up with Fred W. Haise, a civilian pilot, in the first flight of the shuttle Enterprise, a vehicle that was built purely for approach and landing tests and was incapable of flying into orbit.
The shuttle was the first reusable spacecraft: it was launched into space vertically like a conventional rocket and then orbited the Earth while scientific tasks were performed. It landed horizontally like an airplane. The first mission was in April 1981 and the last in July 2011.
For the Enterprise test flight, the shuttle was flown to 24,000 feet on the back of a Boeing 747, then cut loose over the Mojave Desert. The pilots descended and landed it as a powerless, giant glider at Edwards Air Force Base where it was greeted by scientists, movie stars and families in campers. The pilots brought the shuttle in at an 11-degree angle, more than three times the steepness of a commercial airliner’s angle of attack.
“We were doing stuff that there wasn’t any procedure for,” Colonel Fullerton said at the time. “We were writing the procedure and then flying it for the first time.”
Colonel Fullerton and Mr. Haise flew two more prototype missions, including the fifth and final one in October 1977. This time, they landed the shuttle on a hard-surface runway, not the smooth dry lake that surrounds the Edwards air base. Prince Charles of Britain attended.
“At no time were we concerned about loss of control,” Colonel Fullerton said.
In March 1982, Colonel Fullerton was piloting the Columbia when weather conditions forced the landing to be postponed. The usual spot, the Edwards base, had been washed out by rain, and an alternate site, in White Sands, N.M., proved unusable when a fierce sand storm kicked up. NASA officials waved off the New Mexico landing just 39 minutes before Colonel Fullerton and the commander, Col. Jack R. Lousma, were to fire the engines that would have dropped the craft out of orbit. It was the first time in 20 years that an American spaceflight landing had been postponed.
The shuttle continued orbiting and touched down smoothly in New Mexico the next day.
“The spacecraft performed magnificently,” Colonel Fullerton said. “Everything was better than my wildest dreams could imagine.”
Charles Gordon Fullerton was born on Oct. 11, 1936, in Rochester, N.Y. His family moved to Portland, Ore., when he was in the first grade. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology and worked for the Hughes Aircraft Company before joining the Air Force in 1958.
Colonel Fullerton was a bomber test pilot before being selected for the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory program in 1965. After the program was canceled in 1969, NASA accepted him into its astronaut corps, and he was part of the support crew for several lunar missions.
He left the astronaut corps in 1986 and worked as a NASA test pilot and executive. He retired from the Air Force in 1988 and from NASA in 2007.
His survivors include his wife, the former Marie Jeanette Buettner; a daughter, Molly Marie; and a son, Andrew.
Of all the experiments carried out on space shuttle missions, one of the least successful was to determine whether Coca-Cola or Pepsi was best for space travelers. On the 1985 Challenger mission, Colonel Fullerton and his crew found both unrefrigerated, carbonated beverages unpleasant and did not state a preference.
Colonel Fullerton often spoke of the beauty encountered in space and the joys of weightlessness. After the Columbia disaster in 2003, he said the seven crew members who died on the mission had probably not considered themselves heroes but rather simply “the luckiest people on earth.”
“Columbia was a magnificent machine,” he said. “She carried us to the greatest adventures of our lives.”
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