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Riding Rockets

Published by Steve Campion. Category: People

As I write this, the Atlantis is docked with the International Space Station 220 miles overhead on the final space shuttle mission (STS 135) in NASA history.  The various space shuttles have had a 30 year run, and many Americans are following this last mission with more than a little emotion.  After all, quite a few people can’t remember a time when there weren’t space shuttles readying for launch, orbiting the earth, or returning to the California or Florida landing strips.

What does this have to do with Washington State?  Seven Washingtonians have ridden or piloted a space shuttle.  An eighth even flew with NASA during the earlier Gemini and Apollo days.  So even though Washington is farther from the Cape Canaveral launch pads than any other state in the Lower 48, it has provided more than half a dozen astronauts to the space program.  Today we list those eight (in order of most missions) while the last shuttle makes its final orbits.

Washington astronauts had very different experiences.  The first launched in 1966; the most recent just over 4 months ago. Bonnie Dunbar (pictured above) flew the most missions, while Michael Barratt spent the longest time in space — almost 7 months on a single mission. Richard Gordon circled the moon. Gregory Johnson was part of the last crew to touch the Hubble Space Telescope. Barratt rode a Russian Soyuz and lived on the Space Station.

Two Washington astronauts died on space missions: Dick Scobee aboard the Challenger during launch in 1986, and Michael Anderson on the Columbia as it was in its landing descent in 2003. Each man was on his second space mission.  Scobee’s hometown of Auburn named its municipal airfield for the former Navy pilot.  A statue of Anderson has a prominent place at the Spokane Convention Center (pictured below).


Bonnie J. Dunbar (5 missions)
born Mar 3, 1949 in Sunnyside, WA
graduated Sunnyside High School, University of Washington (BS and MS in ceramic engineering)

  • STS 61-A (Challenger) 1985 Oct 30-Nov 6. Mission specialist
  • STS 32 (Columbia) 1990 Jan 9-20, Mission specialist
  • STS 50 (Columbia) 1992 Jun 25-Jul 9. Mission specialist
  • STS 70 (Atlantis) 1995 Jun 27-Jul 7. Mission specialist
  • STS 89 (Endeavor) 1998 Jan 22-Jan 31. Mission specialist

Stephen S. Oswald (3 missions)
born Jun 30, 1951 in Seattle, WA
graduated Bellingham High School

  • STS 42 (Discovery) 1992 Jan 22-30. Pilot
  • STS 56 (Discovery) 1993 Apr 8-17. Pilot
  • STS 67 (Endeavor) 1995 Mar 2-8. Commander

Richard F. Gordon Jr (2 missions)
born Oct 5, 1929 in Seattle, WA
graduated North Kitsap High School, University of Washington (BS in chemistry)

  • Gemini 11. 1966 Sep 12-15. Pilot
  • Apollo 12. 1969 Nov 14-24. Command module pilot

Richard “Dick” Scobee (2 missions)
born May 19, 1939 in Cle Elum, WA
graduated Auburn High School

  • STS 41-C (Challenger) 1984 Apr 6-13. Pilot
  • STS 51-L (Challenger) 1986 Jan 28. Commander

Michael P. Anderson (2 missions)
born Dec 25, 1959 in New York
graduated Cheney High School, University of Washington (BS in physics, astronomy)

  • STS 89 (Endeavour) 1998 Jan 22-31. Mission specialist
  • STS 107 (Columbia) 2003 Jan 16-Feb 1. Payload commander

Michael R. Barratt (2 missions)
born Apr 16, 1959 in Vancouver, WA
graduated Camas High School, University of Washington (BS in zoology)

  • Soyuz TMA-14. 2009 Mar 26-Oct 11. Flight engineer
  • STS 133 (Discovery) 2011 Feb 24-Mar 9. Mission specialist

Gregory C. Johnson (1 mission)
born Jul 30, 1954 in Seattle, WA
graduated West Seattle High School, University of Washington (BS in aerospace engineering)

  • STS 125 (Atlantis) 2009 May 11-24. Pilot

Dorothy M. Metcalf-Lindenburger (1 mission)
born May 2, 1975 in Colorado
earned a BA in geology from Whitman College and a teaching certification from Central Washington Univ.

  • STS 131 (Discovery) 2010 Apr 5-20. Mission specialist

SOURCES:  I learned these names over the years as they appeared in local news, but I verified the facts when assembling this list, primarily with NASA’s mission pages.

PHOTO of Bonnie Dunbar by NASA; in the author’s collection.
PHOTO of Michael Anderson statue © Steve Campion.


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