A veteran of four space shuttle flights, Steven Nagel first flew as a mission specialist on Discovery’s fifth trip into space before serving as pilot or commander on his subsequent flights. He was one of only a few astronauts to fly in all three roles.
Nagel was a member of the 1978 Astronaut Class 8, the first group selected for the space shuttle program. From 1985 through 1993, he flew on four of the five orbiters, each time landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
He flew twice in 1985, a record year of nine shuttle missions. On Discovery’s STS-51G mission, the crew, which included a prince from Saudi Arabia, deployed three communications satellites and the SPARTAN scientific satellite. Nagel then served as pilot on Challenger’s last successful flight, STS-61A, a Spacelab research mission sponsored and managed by Germany with a record-setting crew of eight.
After the 1986 Challenger tragedy, Nagel participated in the recovery effort and development of a crew escape system for future missions. He said that preparing for the shuttle’s return to flight was the most fulfilling time in his career.
On Nagel’s third mission, STS-37 on Atlantis in 1991, the crew deployed the Gamma Ray Observatory, the second of NASA’s four Great Observatories, which included the Hubble Space Telescope, for studying the universe from space. The second German Spacelab mission, STS-55 on Columbia in 1993, was his final command. In all, Nagel spent 723 hours (30 days) in space.
A native of Illinois and graduate of the University of Illinois, Nagel entered the Air Force in 1969 through the ROTC program. Already a licensed pilot, he completed Air Force pilot training, flew the F-100, and become a T-38 instructor. After graduating from Air Force Test Pilot School, he flew primarily the F-4 and A-7D, and logged a total of 12,600 flight hours in various aircraft. Colonel Nagel received the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross and other Air Force and NASA medals.
Nagel retired from the Air Force and the astronaut corps in 1995 but continued working at NASA in management and research pilot positions until 2011. He and his wife, astronaut Dr. Linda M. Godwin, then took teaching positions at her alma mater, the University of Missouri.
Valerie Neal is a curator in the Space History Department of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.