Pilot, Astronaut, Author
Bill Pogue may be best known as an astronaut who served on America’s Skylab space station and author of the book he titled with the perennial question astronauts are asked to answer, How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space?
Before becoming an astronaut in 1966 at the age of 36, Pogue served in the United States Air Force. After enlisting in 1951, he was assigned to the Fifth Air Force and flew fighter-bombers in the Korean War. He then flew in the USAF Thunderbirds precision flight team, taught mathematics at the Air Force Academy, became a test pilot with the British Royal Air Force, and served as an instructor at the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School. Reaching the rank of Colonel, Pogue became proficient in 50 types of American and British aircraft and logged 7,200 hours in flight (4,200 hours in jets).
Bill Pogue missed the chance to go to the Moon when the last three Apollo missions were cancelled; he had been tapped for the Apollo 19 crew. However, he had key mission support roles for Apollo 7, 11, and 14 and was ready for the next opportunity.
He and two other rookie astronauts were selected as the third Skylab crew and flew the longest-duration mission, an 84-day stay from November 1973 to early February 1974. Command module pilot Bill Pogue logged 13 hours 31 minutes in two spacewalks and, with commander Gerald P. “Jerry” Carr and science pilot Dr. Edward G. “Ed” Gibson, spent a total of 2,017 hours in spaceflight. The three Skylab crews jointly received the Collier Trophy “for proving beyond question the value of man in future explorations of space” and for conducting productive scientific research in space.
This last Skylab crew gained notice for rebelling against the non-stop work timeline and taking a day off. After that, Mission Control eased the pressure just enough to give the highly motivated crew some occasional free time. Carr, Pogue, and Gibson carried out solar, celestial, and Earth observation programs and a variety of materials science and life science experiments. The highlights of their mission included observing Comet Kahoutek and doing EVAs on Thanksgiving and Christmas. A replica of their makeshift Christmas tree is visible in the upper deck of the Skylab workshop in Space Hall.
After leaving NASA in 1975, Bill Pogue remained active during the Space Shuttle and Space Station years as an aerospace consultant to NASA, Boeing, and other entities, staying deeply involved in human factors design and engineering analyses. With a college degree in Education, he also was keen to reach young readers and audiences, so he made many public appearances and published four books about his life and spaceflight, plus one novel and several videos.
Bill Pogue had razor-sharp expertise, a genial personality, and a sense of humor that fueled countless entertainingly informative stories. A respected veteran of aviation and spaceflight, he shared his knowledge and experience generously throughout his long career. His death came less than a month after the 40th anniversary of his return to Earth.
Before I came to the Museum, a colleague and I had the pleasure of working with Bill Pogue, Jerry Carr, and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt on three study documents that explored advanced EVA requirements for future NASA missions. Those four had the bright ideas and in-depth knowledge; as their scribe and editor, I learned much of what I know about extravehicular activity techniques and technologies from our lively discussions. As we spent long days and dinners together doing this work, it was an extraordinary opportunity to get to know these astronauts as “real people.” Bill Pogue was real—an expert without pretense, a gentleman, and a friend who always had a ready smile. I hope he is flying high again, somewhere far beyond Earth orbit.
Valerie Neal is a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum.