Created By The Mercury 7 Astronauts
A veteran of three spaceflights, Dr. George D. Nelson served aboard STS-41C Challenger in 1984, STS-61C Columbia in 1986 and STS-26 Discovery in 1988.
Nelson was born July 13, 1950, in Charles City, Iowa. He received a bachelor’s degree in Physics from Harvey Mudd College in 1972 and a master’s degree and doctorate in Astronomy from the University of Washington in 1974 and 1978.
Dr. Nelson was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in January 1978. He served as the Astronaut Office representative in the Space Shuttle Extravehicular Mobility Unit development effort. During STS-1 he was the photographer in the prime chase plane. He also served as support crew and CAPCOM for the last two orbital flight tests, STS-3 and STS-4, and as head of the Astronaut Office Mission Development Group. He has logged a total of 411 hours in space, including 10 hours of spacewalks.
His first spaceflight, STS-41C Challenger, began October 5, 1984, combining seven astronauts for the largest shuttle crew yet. During eight days in orbit, the astronauts deployed the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite and conducted scientific observations of the earth with sensing devices and a Large Format Camera.
STS-61C Columbia launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and returned with a night landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. During the six day flight, Nelson and the crew deployed the SATCOM KU satellite as part of a network of three satellites that would provide commercial communications services within the Ku-band of the electromagnetic spectrum, and conducted experiments in astrophysics and materials processing.
STS-26 Discovery was the first mission flown after the Challenger accident. Excitement built as the countdown entered the final hours on September 29, 1988, and more than a quarter million people and 2,400 news media were gathered in the Kennedy Space Center area. Discovery lifted off flawlessly, and at the White House, President Ronald Reagan declared, “America is back in space.” Six hours into the flight, the astronauts deployed a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, like one destroyed in the Challenger accident. During four days in orbit, the crew tested more than 200 design changes made to the shuttle. A day before returning to Earth, they paid an emotional tribute to the Challenger astronauts.
Dr. Nelson left NASA in 1989, became an assistant provost at the University of Washington, and now directs the Science, Mathematics and Technology Education program at Western Washington University in Bellingham. He is also the principal investigator of the North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership, a mathematics and science partnership grant from the National Science Foundation.
George Nelson was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on May 2, 2009.