Saturday, February 22, 2014

Dale Gardner, Jetpack-Flying Astronaut Who Salvaged Satellites, Dies at 65

NASA astronaut Dale Gardner holds up a "For Sale" sign in a nod to the malfunctioning satellites he and Joe Allen salvaged during space shuttle Discovery's STS-51A mission in 1984. Gardner, 65, died on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014.

Credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Dale Gardner, who in 1984 achieved the world's first space salvage during his second shuttle mission, died on Wednesday (Feb. 19). He was 65.

Dale Gardner made history becoming the last of six astronauts to use the manned maneuvering unit (MMU) jetpack as he worked to return two malfunctioning satellites to Earth.

He died Wednesday from a sudden brain aneurysm. News of his passing was shared via social media on Thursday, with the Association of Space Explorers and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida noting his death.

One of the so-called "Thirty-Five New Guys" (or "TFNG") who NASA recruited in 1978 to train for its then-new space shuttle, Gardner flew twice as a mission specialist aboard the orbiters Challenger and Discovery in August 1983 and November 1984, respectively.

Gardner's first spaceflight blazed a new path through the black sky as the first shuttle mission to launch and land at night.

The six-day STS-8 mission, which marked the third flight of space shuttle Challenger, deployed INSAT-1-B, a communications and weather satellite for India, while also testing the orbiter's robotic arm and, in a first, the space-to-ground communications using a new Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS).

Gardner's STS-8 crewmates included commander Richard Truly, who had piloted the shuttle's second test flight, pilot Dan Brandenstein, and fellow mission specialists William Thornton and Guy Bluford, the latter being the first African American in space.

It was only the second mission to fly with a crew of five, the largest contingent launched aboard a spacecraft at the time.

Gardner returned to space with the second flight of shuttle Discovery as a member of the STS-51A crew.

The eight-day mission first launched two Canadian communication satellites and then, in a move that made history, retrieved two malfunctioning satellites for their return to Earth.

The Wester 6 satellite for Western Union and Indonesian Palpa B2 satellite were deployed on a previous shuttle flight but had failed to reach their proper orbits due to failed motors.

As commander Frederick Hauck, pilot David Walker, and mission specialist Anna Fisher looked on from inside, Joe Allen and Gardner embarked on a pair of spacewalks to capture and secure the wayward satellites.

The twice-done feat, which required the spacewalkers to manually hold the satellites in the orbiter's payload bay, included Allen, and then Gardner donning the MMU jetpack, marking the last times to date that astronauts would fly untethered through open space.

On the successful completion of their salvage work and in a humorous nod to the malfunctioning satellites, Gardner revealed a hand-drawn "For Sale" sign, posing for a photo that would become one of the most iconic shots of the 30-year space shuttle program.

Landing Nov. 16, 1984, Gardner logged a two-mission total of 14 days and 52 minutes orbiting the Earth, including 12 hours and 14 minutes performing two spacewalks.

Dale Allan Gardner was born Nov. 8, 1948, in Fairmount, Minnesota, but was raised in Clinton, Iowa. Graduating in 1970 from the University of Illinois, Gardner entered active duty in the United States Navy and was assigned to flight officer training in Florida and Georgia.

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