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Bill Lenoir dies at 71; NASA astronaut-scientist crewed Columbia mission

A professor of engineering at MIT, he applied to the space agency in 1965. He logged 122 hours in space and 3,000 hours flying jets before becoming associate administrator for space flight.

September 04, 2010|Times Staff and Wire Reports

William "Bill" Lenoir, a former NASA astronaut who was one of four crew members aboard the Columbia space shuttle for its first operational flight in 1982, has died. He was 71.

Lenoir, who became a high-level NASA administrator and aerospace consultant, suffered a fatal head injury Aug. 26 when he fell off his bike near his home, according to the Sandoval County, N.M., Sheriff's Office.

Born in Miami on March 14, 1939, Lenoir joined the astronaut ranks in 1967. He was an engineering professor and researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and his master's and doctorate. In 1965, he saw a magazine blurb soliciting NASA applications.

It was "time to get a little breath of air," Lenoir told the New York Times, so he applied and was accepted as a NASA scientist-astronaut.

In the 1970s he was a backup astronaut in the Skylab space station program and led NASA's Satellite Power Team, created to investigate the potential of satellites to produce power for consumption on Earth.

On Columbia's fifth mission, a five-day operation in November 1982 that followed four shakedown flights, Lenoir flew as a mission specialist on the first space flight to deploy commercial satellites.

That part of the flight was a success, but NASA officials called off a planned spacewalk by Lenoir and another astronaut when their $2-million space suits failed.

Lenoir resigned from NASA in 1984 to join the Washington, D.C.-area technology consulting firm of Booz Allen & Hamilton Inc., but returned to the space agency five years later as associate administrator for space flight. He oversaw all of NASA's manned flight activities, including space shuttle operations and the development of a proposed space station.

He left NASA in 1992 and returned to Booz Allen & Hamilton. In all, he logged 122 hours in space and 3,000 hours flying jets.

In 1982, when asked by a New York Times reporter whether he was excited about the upcoming Columbia space flight, Lenoir responded, "It's unprofessional to be excited.

"Interested and very much agog in anticipation," were the astronaut's preferred descriptions for his pre-flight mood.

Lenoir's first marriage to Elizabeth Frost ended in divorce.

He is survived by his second wife, retired NASA engineer Terri Waite; a son, two daughters and a sister.

news.obits@latimes.com

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