Space Pioneers in Their Own Words
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Space Pioneers in Their Own Words
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Each month, a brief excerpt from a space pioneer's oral history will be featured on this page. This is the excerpt for October 2020:
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Story Musgrave grew up in an intellectually barren home, but as an adult, he developed a zeal for knowledge. He became a medical doctor after earning two Bachelor's degrees and three Master's degrees in a variety of fields. When NASA began recruiting astronaut candidates with scientific skills rather than test pilot training, he applied and was accepted in 1967. During his space career, he was involved in the Skylab program and flew six space shuttle missions. Dr. Musgrave was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1995.

I had six shuttle flights, and the last one [STS-80 in 1996] was important. It may have been significant because this is my last shot at it, but I don't think so. I think it was that I had zero responsibility [on reentry]. Different people on the crew had different responsibilities. Some were responsible for launch, some were responsible for entry. In terms of mission specialist, I had no responsibility for the entry. I just got to see my last one, so I got to sit back and watch. Hey! Man, I'm going to have an experience here. So, in terms of ecstasy, that entry was the highest moment I had on six spaceflights....

I had a chance to really look at the fire out the back window at the start of reentry, and it goes all the way down to about Mach 10. No one has gotten any kind of details to report about that. I'm telling you, it is unbelievable that the shuttle stays together with that amount of fire. You are astounded at the amount of fire that is out that back window. Now, in terms of physics, every single ounce of energy that goes into launch has got to be taken out in the heat of reentry. You look out that back window, and something is organizing that flame. It is not just flame like a fireplace or some other thing. It is organized in a disc. I cannot tell you how big this disc is. It's a circular disc, and it rotates something like an antenna on an AWACS airplane.

It is unbelievable. Now, I don't know any of what's going on.... I can only think that shocks are organizing the flame. So you have a disc so far back, and I don't really know how far back because I don't know how big the disc was. You get this organized structure up there, and all of the fire comes back and feeds this structure. And then you get these horrendous pulses of blue lightning coming off. No one's spoken about this before. This blue lightning comes off the nose, and it goes right in and it feeds this disc up there.

I'm standing up. I have no cooling. I'm standing up on my parachute, my oxygen bottles on. You can't stand up during reentry, but I did. I made it. My buddies kept turning and saying, "You're an animal, Musgrave, you're an animal."
Featured Excerpt
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Each month, a brief excerpt from a space pioneer's oral history will be featured on this page. This is the excerpt for October 2020:
Story Musgrave grew up in an intellectually barren home, but as an adult, he developed a zeal for knowledge. He became a medical doctor after earning two Bachelor's degrees and three Master's degrees in a variety of fields. When NASA began recruiting astronaut candidates with scientific skills rather than test pilot training, he applied and was accepted in 1967. During his space career, he was involved in the Skylab program and flew six space shuttle missions. Dr. Musgrave was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1995.

I had six shuttle flights, and the last one [STS-80 in 1996] was important. It may have been significant because this is my last shot at it, but I don't think so. I think it was that I had zero responsibility [on reentry]. Different people on the crew had different responsibilities. Some were responsible for launch, some were responsible for entry. In terms of mission specialist, I had no responsibility for the entry. I just got to see my last one, so I got to sit back and watch. Hey! Man, I'm going to have an experience here. So, in terms of ecstasy, that entry was the highest moment I had on six spaceflights....

I had a chance to really look at the fire out the back window at the start of reentry, and it goes all the way down to about Mach 10. No one has gotten any kind of details to report about that. I'm telling you, it is unbelievable that the shuttle stays together with that amount of fire. You are astounded at the amount of fire that is out that back window. Now, in terms of physics, every single ounce of energy that goes into launch has got to be taken out in the heat of reentry. You look out that back window, and something is organizing that flame. It is not just flame like a fireplace or some other thing. It is organized in a disc. I cannot tell you how big this disc is. It's a circular disc, and it rotates something like an antenna on an AWACS airplane.

It is unbelievable. Now, I don't know any of what's going on.... I can only think that shocks are organizing the flame. So you have a disc so far back, and I don't really know how far back because I don't know how big the disc was. You get this organized structure up there, and all of the fire comes back and feeds this structure. And then you get these horrendous pulses of blue lightning coming off. No one's spoken about this before. This blue lightning comes off the nose, and it goes right in and it feeds this disc up there.

I'm standing up. I have no cooling. I'm standing up on my parachute, my oxygen bottles on. You can't stand up during reentry, but I did. I made it. My buddies kept turning and saying, "You're an animal, Musgrave, you're an animal."



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Cover of "Space Pioneers: In Their Own Words"
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Gold Medal Award from the Military Writers Society of America for Space Pioneers
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Gold Medal Award from the Military Writers Society of America for Space Pioneers