Hank Hartsfield, first Alabamian in space, dies at 80


Henry W. (Hank) Hartsfield Jr. (Contributed by NASA)

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Alabama (AL.com)- The first Alabamian to enter space has died. Henry W. (Hank) Hartsfield Jr. passed away Thursday following an illness, NASA reports. He was 80 years old.

Hartsfield was born in Birmingham on November 21, 1933, and graduated from West End High School. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics at Auburn University in 1954. His graduate work in physics, astronautics and engineering science at other universities would serve him well in his future at NASA.

Hartsfield commissioned into the U.S. Air Force through Auburn’s Reserve Officer Training Program in 1955. During his 22-year Air Force career, he served as a tactical fighter pilot as well as a distinguished test pilot and instructor, ultimately logging in more than 7,400 hours of flying time. More than 6,150 of those hours were on jets. He retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1977. His astronaut career began in 1966 when he joined the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program. He became a NASA astronaut in 1969 as support crew for Apollo 16. He would also serve on support crews for the Skylab 2, 3 and 4 missions.

Hartsfield went on to command Space Shuttle Discovery’s first flight in 1984 and the Challenger mission on Oct. 30, 1985. He commanded seven other people on the  Challenger mission, the largest crew ever assigned to a shuttle mission.

Hartsfield’s shuttle flights logged him 483 hours in space.

Once his astronaut days were over, he served NASA in a number of administrative positions, including deputy chief of the astronaut office and deputy director for flight crew operations and director. He became the director of the Technical Integration and Analysis Division at NASA Headquarters in 1989, where he was responsible for the integration of the Space Shuttle.

His duties brought him back to Alabama in 1990 when he accepted a temporary assignment at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. He started as the deputy manager for operations at the Space Station Projects Office and later acted as the office’s deputy manager.

Hartsfield was inducted into the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame in 1983 and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2006.

Read the full article from AL.com here.

Read Hartsfield’s NASA biography here. More details can be found in the death announcement.

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