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  Astronauts assigned too many flights? (Page 1)

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Author Topic:   Astronauts assigned too many flights?
Fra Mauro
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posted 01-31-2011 09:08 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fra Mauro   Click Here to Email Fra Mauro     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just to stir the pot a little and to post something opposite to a recent post -- do you think any astronaut was given too many flights? Think of this in light of denying others a chance to their first mission.

cddfspace
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posted 01-31-2011 09:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cddfspace   Click Here to Email cddfspace     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I was told by a Hall of Fame astronaut that he believed that John Glenn should not have flown his shuttle flight because he was taking a seat from another astronaut.

jimsz
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posted 01-31-2011 09:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jimsz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I would agree with that for every politician, tourist, teacher (non-professional astronaut) that is flown on the shuttle or the ISS.

Fra Mauro
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posted 01-31-2011 09:43 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fra Mauro   Click Here to Email Fra Mauro     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Didn't John Glenn deserve another flight since he was unofficially grounded after MA-6?

moorouge
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posted 01-31-2011 10:21 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Doesn't this apply to the astronaut corps - "All astronauts are equal, but some are more equal than others."

Byeman
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posted 01-31-2011 12:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Byeman   Click Here to Email Byeman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by jimsz:
I would agree with that for every politician, tourist, teacher (non-professional astronaut) that is flown on the shuttle or the ISS.
Why?

There were no tasks for additional astronauts on those shuttle missions. So what makes a NASA astronauts more deserving than a politician, tourist, teacher (non-professional astronaut, journalist, etc?

Spaceflight is not a right, not even for those anointed as NASA astronauts.

GoesTo11
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posted 01-31-2011 12:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for GoesTo11   Click Here to Email GoesTo11     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Interesting topic. With respect to Glenn's STS flight, I've heard from several credible sources that it didn't go over well at all in the astronaut office, even though many of them grew up idolizing him. It was a glorified publicity stunt, and everyone knew it.

To be fair, there were varying degrees of resentment among the astronauts toward the pre-Challenger "passengers" as well.

Something else I've always found interesting, related to this topic: During the early Shuttle years, there was a strong feeling (especially among astronauts who came to NASA from the Air Force) that George Abbey was biased in favor of astronauts with Navy backgrounds when it came to flight assignments and support duties. I have no idea to what extent, if any, this persisted later in the program.

I will also say that I've found a few of the more recent crew assignments...curious. I understand that no one is "owed" a mission, and that selection as an astronaut doesn't guarantee a seat, but the number of repeat fliers does seem a bit high given the contingent of astronauts still waiting for their first ride. I'm guessing a lot of them have an eye on the EXIT door these days.

brianjbradley
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posted 01-31-2011 12:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for brianjbradley   Click Here to Email brianjbradley     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
George Abbey had an unofficial posse of astronauts called the Bubbas - astronauts he took a liking to, showed some favor to, who were in his company at events and discretely took care of Abbey or showed endorsement for his management to their peers. In return, they flew often or were given more high profile missions. Hoot Gibson, Jim Wetherbee and Bill Shepherd were three such astronauts.

GoesTo11
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posted 01-31-2011 12:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for GoesTo11   Click Here to Email GoesTo11     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Brian--When I was an adolescent space geek besotted with the Shuttle and blissfully ignorant of the politics and cliques within the astronaut office, I do remember seeing crew announcements a few times and thinking, "(So-and-so) again?" Hoot Gibson and Bob Crippen, to name two. Nothing against those two gentlemen; it was just kind of a head-scratcher at the time.

Skylon
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posted 01-31-2011 03:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Skylon     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It doesn't seem like something lobbied for much by some "Bubbas." According to Mike Mullane, Hoot Gibson, when assigned to STS-27 told George Abbey "It's not my turn" (he'd just commanded the last mission before Challenger, and was getting the second post-Challenger flight). Abbey replied "Turns have got nothing to do with it."

Some sources say Goerge Abbey wanted Bill Shepherd to fly as the first NASA Astronaut to Mir instead of Norm Thagard, but Shepherd wanted nothing to do with a Mir flight.

Jim Wetherbee left JSC pretty soon after Abbey's tenure ended, maybe indicating he was well aware who was keeping him on the flight line, and when he was out, it was time to go.

Though in response to the question "who flew too many times" I think most astronauts would answer "None of us."

spaceman
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posted 01-31-2011 04:19 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spaceman   Click Here to Email spaceman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Non-astronauts (if there can be such a being... we all have the potential but not the focus) flying e.g. politicians et al, always bring much needed publicity to the program. As such I don't think it can be measured or a value put on it. If someone has something new or different to offer (including cash) and they can get through the training and fitness regime then let 'em fly.

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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posted 01-31-2011 04:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My, uh, concern with Glenn is that the alleged basis for his flight was to study older people, seeing as how they had 36 years of physical data from Glenn.

Yet, Musgrave said he was too old to expect a seventh flight. Nor did they fly [fill in the blank with whomever], also because of their age.

I have nothing personally against Glenn. I just think if the real reason on flying Glenn on the shuttle was because he deserved it, then it should have been stated as such.

Skylon
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posted 01-31-2011 05:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Skylon     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Hart Sastrowardoyo:
I have nothing personally against Glenn. I just think if the real reason on flying Glenn on the shuttle was because he deserved it, then it should have been stated as such.
Then you have the question of what is the criteria for "deserved"? I'm sure every unflown astronaut who slaved away as Caped Crusaders, in the SAIL and on support teams for years, waiting for their first flight believed they deserved a seat on STS-95 instead of Glenn.

And you know what? I'd say yes.

fredtrav
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posted 01-31-2011 06:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for fredtrav   Click Here to Email fredtrav     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Glenn deserved a spot as much as any other astronaut. In addition to his "experiment" he did help to bring attention to NASA and the shuttle.

If you want to talk about an undeserving politician, how about Jake Garn. Though at least he gave us the Garn space sickness scale.

Byeman
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posted 01-31-2011 06:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Byeman   Click Here to Email Byeman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Skylon:
I'm sure every unflown astronaut who slaved away as Caped Crusaders, in the SAIL and on support teams for years, waiting for their first flight

Slaved? Nothing but the opposite. The work level of the astronauts never approached that of most shuttle workers. Most of them thought they were entitled and the world treated them as such.

AJ
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posted 01-31-2011 07:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for AJ   Click Here to Email AJ     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just want y'all to know that as a child, I wrote to NASA and kindly suggested that a child/student would be a great candidate for spaceflight and would be even BETTER than an educator in space. I also volunteered for such a mission. Why I was denied my slot on a flight, I'll never know.

brianjbradley
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posted 01-31-2011 08:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for brianjbradley   Click Here to Email brianjbradley     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
While flying politicians was frowned upon by many, this was an expensive program. The support in Congress from Glenn, Garn and Nelson (probably the most) has proven to be invaluable to keeping dollars going to the program. I say put Obama on a Soyuz or even a commercial flight, and Constellation will be back in business.

Skylon
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posted 01-31-2011 09:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Skylon     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Byeman:
Slaved? Nothing but the opposite.
I wasn't being literal you know.

Merely pointing out that at the time Glenn flew there were many astronauts who had paid their dues in a way Glenn had not since Mercury.

By being stuck on the ground, doing grunt work while awaiting a flight.

Byeman
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posted 01-31-2011 10:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Byeman   Click Here to Email Byeman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by brianjbradley:
I say put Obama on a Soyuz or even a commercial flight, and Constellation will be back in business.
Huh? What makes you thing a commercial vehicle would be worse than a Constellation vehicle? CxP was unsustainable and too costly.

KSCartist
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posted 02-01-2011 04:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for KSCartist   Click Here to Email KSCartist     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Some truths as I see it:

Glenn deserved another flight.

STS-95 with him on it was a publicity stunt. If it hadn't been a stunt but an real attempt to understand the correlation between bone loss in space vs aging then more old astronauts would have been given the same opportunity (Carpenter, Musgrave, Young) since then. No serious science is accomplished with only one data point.

jimsz
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posted 02-01-2011 06:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jimsz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Byeman:
There were no tasks for additional astronauts on those shuttle missions.
Maybe there should have been tasks assigned that real astronauts could have done. Otherwise why are/were the flights flying?
quote:
So what makes a NASA astronauts more deserving than a politician, tourist, teacher (non-professional astronaut, journalist, etc?
What makes a NASA astronaut more deserving? Well, maybe because that is their job and the purpose of the space program is not to give day riders a trip into space paid for by taxpayers?
quote:
Spaceflight is not a right, not even for those anointed as NASA astronauts.
No it's not. But if called upon it is their job. But neither is it a right to send tourists and teachers.

alanh_7
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posted 02-01-2011 07:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
At an event late last year I asked Hoot Gibson in person why he had retired when he could have kept flying. At the time he was Chief of the Astronaut office.

He told me he likely could have assigned himself on another flight or perhaps two, but felt that he would have just been taking seats from guys who had been waiting a long time to fly. His wife Rhea wanted to leave NASA to practise medicine again. NASA had been a great experience for them both and it was time to let other people have their turn.

So he retired.

Delta7
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posted 02-01-2011 08:11 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The astronaut office is like any other work organization. There will always be some who do better than others, have a more successful career and have more to show for it when all is said and done. Some of that is based on ability and performance, and some of it the result of personal opinions, prejudices and politics involving the decision makers. Being selected for the vaunted position of astronaut does not automatically shield one from those realities of the workplace. It simply means they've been hired.

DChudwin
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posted 02-01-2011 08:49 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for DChudwin   Click Here to Email DChudwin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This topic brings up the question of the criteria used for selection of flight crews. From the outside, it appears that Astronaut Office politics, military service allegiances, and the whims of the selectors (starting with Deke Slayton) were as important as technical competence.

I once wrote Deke asking about the crew selection process, but his reply was vague. He said that personal friendships were not important, yet he put best buddies Pete Conrad and Al Bean together on Apollo 12.

We know that at various points Slayton, Shepard, Stafford, and Abbey played important roles in crew selection. Who has that role today? Is it Peggy Whitson (Astronaut Office Chief), Mike Coats (JSC Director), or someone else?

hlbjr
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posted 02-01-2011 09:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for hlbjr   Click Here to Email hlbjr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The answer under Abbey was pure and simple - he favored Navy guys. That is not in dispute. The record for parity for the Air Force guys changed when Abbey left JSC. Brandenstein could be much more fair in his decisions and the whole process became more open that previously done. Deke's system, while pretty secret, was much more even-handed than Abbey. I've heard a number of negative comments about Abbey's methods from a few astronauts (who did well under him) and Mike Mullane's book really casts light on the unfair nature of crew selection at that time.

328KF
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posted 02-01-2011 10:05 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
While I would not consider three spaceflights "too many", Charlie Walker, a payload specialist from McDonell Douglas, pulled off an incredible feat for a "non-astronaut" by flying as many times.

He was attached to the electrophoresis experiment that flew in the mid-deck on STS-41-D, 51-D, and 61-B, all within a two year timeframe.

I have never had the chance to ask Charlie how he got so many chances, and if there wasn't somebody else qualified and waiting to go in his place. I'm sure there were other engineers at McD who could operate the experiment, but maybe none willing to accept the risk?

Skylon
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posted 02-01-2011 03:19 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Skylon     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by DChudwin:
We know that at various points Slayton, Shepard, Stafford, and Abbey played important roles in crew selection. Who has that role today? Is it Peggy Whitson (Astronaut Office Chief), Mike Coats (JSC Director), or someone else?
Crew selection has evolved over time.

In Mercury Bob Gilruth made all the crew selections until MA-9. Starting with MA-9, and Deke Slayton's assumption of the duties of Director of Flight Crew Operations, he began making flight assignments. Through Gemini and Apollo he did them with Al Shepard and Tom Stafford's input. The Chief of the Astronaut Office had little official say in crew assignments.

George Abbey kept crew selection with the Director of Flight Crew Operations when he took that position. I think its safe to say that the difference from how Slayton and Abbey managed crew assignments is like night and day. Mike Mullane stated he was shocked John Young, as Chief Astronaut was not making the flight assignments, but it makes sense when you consider the history of Abbey's job position.

When Abbey was ousted from FCOD, Don Puddy established a new criteria for crew selection, that remains in place today. Flight crew assignments originate with the Chief Astronaut (currently Peggy Whitson). They are then approved or rejected by the following, in this order:

  • The Director of Flight Crew Operations (Brent Jett currently).
  • The JSC Director (Mike Coats)
  • NASA HQ (including the Administrator).
George Abbey, when he returned to JSC as Center Director was notorious for rejecting flight crew assignments. He no longer made the flight assignments per-se, but would reject crews until he saw the name he wanted on the flight, and only then would he approve it.

OV-105
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posted 02-01-2011 09:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for OV-105   Click Here to Email OV-105     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by 328KF:
I'm sure there were other engineers at McD who could operate the experiment, but maybe none willing to accept the risk?
I think Charile Walker was the most qualified to fly with the CFES. He was one of the patent holders for the CFES system and he trained the STS-4, 6, 7, and 8 crew on the system. If I remember right he even did some IFM's on it when he flew that would not have been able to be done. There was going to a be a larger unit that was going to be flown that was going to be in the payload bay and I think his back up was going to fly with that one.

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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posted 02-02-2011 04:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That would be Robert Wood, on 61M. In "Space Shuttle: The First 20 Years" there's mention by Walker on the possibility of Walker making that flight instead of Wood.

Jay Chladek
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posted 02-03-2011 12:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Charlie was the best for hands on work with the CFES experiment. He got to fly so many times, mainly because he was the best one suited to troubleshoot it in orbit and he could work on it full time while MSes would only be able to devote part time work to it.

As for Robert Wood, I have a good friend that worked at MDD back in the 1980s and knew both Charlie pretty well (they are still friends) and Robert (albeit not as well). Robert Wood was intended to fly with the CFES experiment in the payload bay since he was more of a software guy. With the experiment unable to be gotten at in flight if a problem arose, the plan was for Rob to fix it "in software" as needed. Of course, they never got that chance.

onesmallstep
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posted 02-03-2011 05:19 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for onesmallstep   Click Here to Email onesmallstep     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by DChudwin:
Deke... said that personal friendships were not important, yet he put best buddies Pete Conrad and Al Bean together on Apollo 12.
Am I wrong, or isn't it more accurate according to both men's accounts, that after the death of C.C. Williams, Conrad wanted Bean for his crew, and it was a fait accompli for Slayton to approve of it?

Delta7
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posted 02-03-2011 06:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I seem to remember reading that Conrad had to plead with Deke for Bean to replace Williams; Slayton was reluctant because he didn't want to lose Bean as chief of the Apollo Applications (Skylab) branch of the Astronaut Office.

328KF
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posted 02-03-2011 08:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This topic is covered in detail in Chapter 3 of Footprints in the Dust. Conrad originally wanted Bean on his crew, but was turned down by Slayton on his first attempt. The boss offered a selection of potential candidates to Conrad and he chose Williams from the list.

After the unfortunate death of Williams, Conrad again approached Slayton and took a firmer stance on having Bean join what would become the Apollo 12 crew. By that time, Slayton had had more direct contact with Bean and saw real potential in his performance at AAP and agreed to let him go.

Bean had no knowledge of these events at the time, but came to know them through Conrad's telling of the story over the years.

Williams had only been paired with Conrad and Gordon for a few weeks of training before the accident, and the official announcement of the full crew was not even made until after Bean had replaced him.

In fact, at the time these decisions were made, Conrad's crew was backing up McDivitt's, which would have ultimately placed them in line for Apollo 11, but McDivitt's decision to stick with the LM test flight and swap trips with Frank Borman pushed the trio to the second lunar landing attempt.

McDivitt's decision had a profound effect on Dick Gordon's later career, but that's a whole different story.

Skylon
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posted 02-03-2011 08:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Skylon     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by onesmallstep:
Am I wrong, or isn't it more accurate according to both men's accounts, that after the death of C.C. Williams, Conrad wanted Bean for his crew, and it was a fait accompli for Slayton to approve of it?
Yeah. However, Slayton wasn't above putting personalities together whom he thought would work well, and happened to be good buddies.
  • Gemini 4 - Jim McDivitt and Ed White (former classmates and friends).
  • Gemini 11 - Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon
  • Apollo 12 - The above again, only with C.C. Williams and later Al Bean added.
Slayton's original GT-4 backup crew was Pete Conrad and Jim Lovell, another case of assigning two buddies together.

Tom Stafford was moved off Gemini 3 when Al Shepard was taken off flight status because Slayton believed John Young was a better personality match for Gus Grissom. Also by then Slayton had become convinced Tom Stafford was the strongest Group 2 astronaut in rendezvous, so it was a good idea to point him at Gemini 6.

It wasn't the primary factor. But where possible, Slayton seems to have paid attention to the interpersonal relationships of crew members.

brianjbradley
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posted 02-03-2011 09:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for brianjbradley   Click Here to Email brianjbradley     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Skylon:
But where possible, Slayton seems to have paid attention to the interpersonal relationships of crew members.
Personally, I think that is good management. In a capsule smaller than that of the shuttle and you are going to the moon, I'd think that the best possible interpersonal relationships would be one of the fundamental considerations in selecting the crew.

Side note in terms of maximum number of flights, notice a woman astronaut never made it above five flights - Marsha Ivins, Bonnie Dunbar, Tammy Jernigan and Janice Voss were on active flight status for some time after their fifth missions, but a sixth or seventh never came like it did for Young (6), Musgrave (6), Brown (6), Wetherbee (6), Foale (6), Ross (7) and Chang-Diaz (7).

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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posted 02-04-2011 06:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I never followed up on Ivins' response with her, but I believe it was in 2002 or 2003 when she did a public appearance and when asked about her flights, said, "I'm done now, much to my mom's relief." So somehow, after five flights and STS-98, Ivins knew (or had decided) she wouldn't get a sixth.

garymilgrom
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posted 02-04-2011 10:43 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't agree with those who say Senators, teachers etc. should not be flown. I think we need to fly more of these types of passengers. These people help market the program to laymen.

Think of the publicity surrounding Hannah Montana flying on the Shuttle. You may wish to put science first, or even have a policy of science only for who flies. But that has put us in our current position of having no manned program following the Shuttle's retirement.

If some smart marketing had been applied to the flights, as well as the science, we might have much more support among lay people for expanding NASA's budget and role in human space exploration.

spacefan JC
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posted 02-06-2011 10:54 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spacefan JC   Click Here to Email spacefan JC     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by garymilgrom:
Think of the publicity surrounding Hannah Montana flying on the Shuttle.
Can a one way trip be arranged?

Delta7
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posted 02-07-2011 07:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If the Challenger accident hadn't occurred, who knows how many flights John Young would have had. He was training for #7 and showed no signs of slowing down. Personally I wish he'd have wound up with a dozen.

Blackarrow
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posted 02-07-2011 05:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
While looking at the statistics of multi-flight astronauts, it is worth considering that of the 29 astronauts who flew on Project Apollo, 13 (45%) flew only a single mission in their NASA careers. A further 11 (who had flown earlier missions) never flew another mission. Only 4 flew two Apollo missions, and only 5 flew post-Apollo missions. It wasn't just a case of "How can you beat a trip to the Moon?" Look at Pete Conrad and John Young in particular. But there does seem to have been a sense (with obvious exceptions) that an Apollo mission (even if it was a first flight) was the culmination of a career.


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