Press Release

Veteran Space Shuttle Astronauts Selected for 2009 U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction

By SpaceRef Editor
January 22, 2009
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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (January 22, 2009) – George “Pinky” Nelson, William M. Shepherd and James D. Wetherbee will join an elite group of American space heroes as they are inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame(R) during a public ceremony at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Saturday, May 2, 2009. They will be welcomed to the ranks of legendary space pioneers like Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Jim Lovell, Sally Ride and John Young – distinguished members of this unique Hall of Fame.

This is the eighth group of Space Shuttle astronauts named to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Earlier inductees represent the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz programs. The addition of Nelson, the only American to test-fly the Russian Manned Maneuvering Unit; Shepherd, commander of the first crew to man the International Space Station; and Wetherbee, commander of the longest docked shuttle-Mir mission, will bring the number of space explorers enshrined in the Hall of Fame to 73.

The 2009 inductees were selected by a committee of current Hall of Fame astronauts, former NASA officials and flight directors, historians, journalists and other space authorities. The process is administered by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, a non-profit organization established in 1984 to support students seeking degrees in science and technology. To be eligible, an astronaut must have made his or her first flight at least 17 years before the induction year and must be retired at least five years from NASA’s astronaut corps. Candidates must be a U.S. citizen, NASA-trained, commander, pilot or mission specialist and must have orbited the earth at least once. Committee members receiving ballots evaluate not only an individual’s flight accomplishments but also how he or she contributed to the success and future success of the U.S. Space Program in post-flight assignments.

George “Pinky” Nelson (Ph.D.) was a member of the first spacewalking team to repair a satellite in-orbit. He flew three space shuttle missions during the 11 years he was in the Astronaut Corps, from 1978 to 1989.

As a mission specialist aboard space shuttle Challenger’s STS-41C mission, Nelson, together with James “Ox” van Hoften, repaired the malfunctioning Solar Maximum Satellite during two spacewalks, which were later featured in the IMAX film, “The Dream is Alive.” The mission, which flew in April 1984, also deployed the school bus-size Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF).

Nelson launched twice more, on the missions immediately preceding and following the loss of Challenger. He served as a mission specialist for STS-61C in January 1986, which launched the satellite SATCOM Ku-1, and STS-26, the first return to flight for the space shuttle fleet following the Challenger accident.

Nelson has been involved with the Hubble Space Telescope program for more than ten years, beginning in 1992 when he joined the NASA Space Telescope Repair Mission Task Force. In 1995, Nelson became a member of the NASA Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission External Readiness Review Team, where he served as chairman from 1998 through 2003.

Nelson retains the distinction of being the only American to test-fly the Russian Manned Maneuvering Unit in 1989 in Moscow.

Currently, Nelson serves as Director of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education at Western Washington University.

A four-time space shuttle astronaut, William M. Shepherd (Captain, USN) commanded the first mission to the International Space Station (ISS), living and working aboard the outpost for 141 days, from October 2000 to March 2001.

A former Navy SEAL, Shepherd’s first flight was as a mission specialist for STS-27, a 1988 classified Department of Defense mission. He also flew on STS-41, launching the Ulysses probe exploring the polar regions of the sun, and on STS-52, which deployed a laser geodynamic satellite and operated the U.S. Microgravity Payload.

Shepherd also served as Program Manager and Deputy Program Manager for the ISS program from 1993 to 1996, and helped craft the U.S. government’s framework for a joint space station program with the Russians.

Additionally, he filmed segments of “Space Station,” an award-winning IMAX 3D film about the in-orbit construction of the ISS.

Shepherd is a recipient of the prestigious Congressional Space Medal of Honor. He also went on to become a civilian engineer assigned to the staff of the Commander, Naval Special Warfare Command, to assist with the development of new capabilities and programs for the SEALs and Special Boat Sailors of Tomorrow.

James D. Wetherbee (Captain, USN Ret.) commanded five of the six space shuttle missions he flew during his 19 years in the NASA Astronaut Corps, from May of 1984 through May 2003.

Wetherbee first flew as pilot of STS-32, which recovered the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) that was launched in 1984. His first command, STS-52, deployed an Italian laser geodynamic satellite.

As commander of STS-63, he positioned Discovery within 30 feet of the space station Mir, conducting the first U.S. space shuttle rendezvous with the Russian outpost. Wetherbee returned to Mir on STS-86, commanding the longest docked shuttle-Mir mission, which also included the first U.S.-Russian spacewalk.

Wetherbee twice flew to the International Space Station (ISS). In 2001, Wetherbee and his STS-102 crewmates aboard Discovery delivered the ISS Expedition 2 crew, relieving and returning the space station’s first crew. On STS-113, he returned to the outpost to install part of the space station’s backbone truss, as well as deliver the Expedition 6 crew, landing with the members of Expedition 5.

Wetherbee also served as Deputy Director and Director of Flight Crew Operations for the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. Today, he serves as a safety auditor with BP.

About the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony:

The public is invited to witness heroes honoring heroes at the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Saturday, May 2, 2009. Admission to the Induction Ceremony is included with admission to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

About the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation:

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation participated in creating a venue where space travelers could be remembered – the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, which opened in 1990. Since 2002, Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts at KSC, Inc., operators of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for NASA, has operated the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Today, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation serves as a consultant for the Hall of Fame, which includes supervising the selection of astronauts for enshrinement into the Hall. The Foundation’s mission is to aid the United States in retaining its world leadership in science and technology by providing scholarships to exceptional college students pursuing these degrees. To date, the foundation has awarded more than $2.6 million to deserving students nationwide. For more information, log on to or call 321-455-7012.

Editor’s Note: Individual photos of the Inductees are available via e-mail by contacting Andrea Farmer at, Jillian McRae at or Lesley Llerandi at

SpaceRef staff editor.