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Crippen, Robert L.

Biography

Robert Laurel Crippen was born on September 11, 1937, in Beaumont, Texas, to Ruth Cynthia Crippen and Herbert Wesley Crippen. He grew up in the town of Porter, just north of Houston, where his mother operated a neighborhood tavern and his father was an oil driller.

After High School graduation in 1955, Crippen entered the University of Texas, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering in 1960.

Upon graduation, he joined the Navy, entering Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida, where he had already been accepted for flight training. Training progressed to Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Florida, and then onto Naval Air Station Chase Field, in Beeville, Texas.   In 1961 he received his Wings of Gold.

Crippen was soon assigned to Fleet Squadron VA-72 as an attack pilot, flying the A-4 Skyhawk on the aircraft carrier USS Independence from June 1962 to November 1964.

His next assignment was the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California, from 1964 to 1966, first as a student then as an instructor.

In 1966, Crippen became an Air Force astronaut assigned to the second group of aerospace research pilots for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program. When the project was canceled in June of 1969, Crippen found a place that September as an astronaut with NASA.

Over the next 12 years, though not flying on any space missions, Crippen participated in the Skylab Medical Experiment Altitude Test and served as a capsule communicator with the astronaut support crew for Skylab 2, 3, and 4 missions, as well as for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission.

On April 12, 1981, he finally made it into space as the pilot of STS-1, the first orbital test flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia, the world’s first reusable spacecraft.

Crippen, along with John Young, who served as Space Shuttle commander, achieved a multitude of firsts on STS-1, including Columbia being the first winged space vehicle launched using solid-fueled rocket boosters; and being the first winged re-entry vehicle to return to a conventional runway, landing at Edwards Air Force Base on April 14. This record-setting mission orbited the earth 37 times and lasted a total of 54 hours, 20 minutes and 53 seconds.

Over the next three years, Crippen would enter space three more times as the spacecraft commander of Challenger STS-7, STS-41C, and STS-41G. Each time the number of crewmembers increased along with the number of days in orbit, and many more new firsts including the first satellite deployment and recapture.

By the end of his last mission on October 13, 1984, he had logged over 565 hours in space, orbited the earth 374 times and had traveled over 9.4 million miles.

In 1986, Crippen took on new duties at NASA when he became the deputy director for the Space Shuttle Operations for NASA Headquarters at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

His responsibilities for the next three years included the final Shuttle preparations, mission execution, and the return of the Shuttle to Kennedy Space Center after it landed at Edwards Air Force Base.

In 1990, Captain Crippen retired from the United States Navy after 30 years of service and entered government service as the Space Shuttle director at NASA Headquarters in Washington D. C.   As director, he presided over the entire Shuttle program requirements and performance, including the budget, launch schedule, and program content.

In January of 1992, Crippen became Director of the Kennedy Space Center where he managed processing, launch, and recovery of all Space Shuttle missions. He ended his 21-year career with NASA in January 1995.

Crippen then joined Lockheed Martin Information Systems, where he served as their vice president of Training Simulation Systems. In December of 1996, he became president of the Thiokol Propulsion Group in Brigham City, Utah, until his retirement from the industry in April 2001.

Crippen has flown more than twenty types of aircraft accumulating more than 6500 hours, with over 5500 in jet aircraft.   He and his wife, Pandora, NASA’s first female lead engineer on the Space Shuttles Atlantis and Challenger, enjoy their retirement in Florida.

Capt. Crippen is a 2016 enshrinee of the National Aviation Hall of Fame.