Astronaut Scholarship Foundation

Created By The Mercury 7 Astronauts

Joseph Allen


Joseph P. Allen flew on two Space Shuttles, both milestone flights: the first operational mission on Columbia in 1982 and the first satellite salvage mission on Discovery in 1982.

Born in Crawfordsville, Ind., in 1937, Allen earned a bachelor of arts in mathematics and physics from DePauw University and a master of science and doctorate of philosophy in physics from Yale University.

He was a nuclear physics research associate at the University of Washington when NASA selected him as one of 11 scientist-astronauts in 1967. After serving in several administrative positions with NASA, including four years at headquarters, he returned in 1981 to Johnson Space Center where he helped support the first Space Shuttle flight.

After four test flights, Columbia was ready for operational duty, blasting off in 1982 with Allen and three crewmates to deliver the first satellites to orbit for paying customers. Nine hours after liftoff, Allen and William Lenoir, after conducting a countdown, sent a Satellite Business Systems communications satellite spinning out of the cargo bay. They repeated the feat the next day with a Canadian satellite. To celebrate the first commercial deployment from a shuttle, the crew displayed a sign: “Ace Moving Co. – We Deliver!” Allen and Lenoir were to have made the first shuttle space walk, but technical problems with the suits canceled this plan.

History’s first space salvage mission began when Allen and four other astronauts blazed into orbit aboard Discovery in 1984. Their main goal was to retrieve two communications satellites, Westar 6 and Palapa B2, which had been stranded in useless orbits after deployment from an earlier shuttle. Early in flight, the crew released a pair of satellites and then set out to round up their first target, Palapa. Once they caught up with it, Allen and Dale Gardner, wearing space suits, glided outside, with Allen moving untethered over to Palapa, propelled by a Buck Rogers-like jet pack. He latched onto it and moved it into position to be grabbed by the ship’s robot arm. For 90 minutes, one circuit of the globe, Allen held aloft the 1,200-pound satellite while work was done on it before it was manually lowered into the cargo bay. Allen and Gardner used similar procedures two days later to retrieve and stow Westar. Back on earth, the two satellites were repaired for return to orbit.

Allen left NASA in 1985. He served as chief executive officer of Space Industries International, Washington, D.C., and later was chairman of Veridian Corp., until he retired in 2004.

Joe Allen was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on April 30, 2005.