Don Peterson, astronaut who flew in first Space Shuttle Challenger flight, dead at age of 84

Shuttle Astronaut Don Peterson (Photo Credits: NASA)

NASA confirms one of the agency’s former astronauts has died. Don Peterson was 84 years old.

Peterson flew aboard the first flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger, and also took part in the first spacewalk of the shuttle program in April of 1983.

The spacewalk was used to test a new suit, the shuttle airlock and new tools for construction and repair outside a spacecraft. The mission was in orbital operations for 120 hours.

NASA’s website shares this about Peterson’s background:

Peterson was born in Winona, Miss., on Oct. 22, 1933. He graduated from Winona City High School and received a bachelor of science degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 1955. He earned a master’s degree in Nuclear Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in 1962.

Over his career, he was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal and the JSC Group Achievement Award.

After graduating from West Point, Peterson completed a variety of assignments. He spent four years as a flight instructor and military training officer with the Air Training Command. The Air Force Systems Command utilized him as a nuclear systems analyst for three years. He also served as a fighter pilot with Tactical Air Command for one year, including three months of combat weapons training. He was a graduate of the Aerospace Research Pilot School, Edwards Air Force Base, California, and was one of the third group of astronauts assigned to the Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program. He logged more than 5,300 hours of flying time–including more than 5,000 hours in jet aircraft.

Peterson became a NASA astronaut in September 1969 and served on the astronaut support crew for Apollo 16. Peterson retired from the Air Force with the rank of colonel after more than 24 years of active service, but he continued his assignment as a NASA astronaut in a civilian capacity. His areas of responsibility included engineering support, man/machine interface and safety assessment.

Peterson resigned from the Astronaut Office in November 1984, working after that as a consultant in manned aerospace operations.