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4 Astronauts Join Hall of Fame

Ceremony: Inductees are the first space shuttle commanders so honored. Challenger tragedy draws emotion.

November 11, 2001|From Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame accepted its first class of space shuttle fliers Saturday in a patriotic ceremony a few miles from where they rocketed into orbit.

Former space shuttle commanders Robert L. Crippen, Joe Engle, Richard H. Truly and Frederick H. Hauck were honored by their fellow astronauts and space program workers as well as hundreds of others who gathered at the Kennedy Space Center.

The four inductees shared the outdoor stage with 14 veterans of Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz missions who already are members of the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

"I think it is marvelous, with this nation at war, that we take the time to recognize things that are so important to our country, and the space program has to be at or very close to the top of the list," said Truly, the pilot of the second space shuttle flight and a former NASA administrator.

Hauck, who commanded NASA's 1988 return to flight after the Challenger disaster, asked the crowd to remember the seven crew members who died that morning in January 1986. Overcome with emotion, he paused and cleared his throat, then named each of the seven.

"They usually say this is where the rubber meets the road. But this is where the heat shield meets the vacuum, right above here," Hauck said, gesturing toward the clear afternoon sky. He thanked those who helped him achieve "my greatest adventure."

Crippen was the pilot of the first space shuttle flight in April 1981 and went on to become a shuttle commander and director of the Kennedy Space Center. Engle, an X-15 test pilot, commanded the second shuttle mission, in November 1981.

Saturday's ceremony brought the number of those honored by the Astronaut Hall of Fame to 48. The newest members were selected by a committee of retired NASA officials, journalists and a historian, and were among 21 astronauts considered from the first three years of shuttle flight.

"I'm honored, I'm very surprised and I'm damn proud to be an American," Engle said to applause.

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