Robert Crippen is an engineer, a retired United States Navy Captain, and a former NASA astronaut. He was born Robert Laurel Crippen on September 11, 1937 in Beaumont, Texas. He was raised in Texas and graduated from New Caney High School, and then went on to attend the University of Texas at Austin, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering in 1960.
Crippen was commissioned through the United States Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School Program, and became a Navy pilot in June 1962. For two years he made deployments aboard the aircraft carrier USS Independence and flew the A-4 Skyhawk in Attack Squadron 72. Later, he attended the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California, and he stayed there as an instructor until October 1966, when he was chosen for the USAF Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program.
In September 1969, Crippen became a NASA astronaut. His first assignments were as a member of the astronaut support crew for the Skylab 2, Skylab 3, and Skylab 4 missions, as well as for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission. His first mission to space was as pilot of Space Shuttle Columbia on STS-1, which was the first orbital flight of NASA’s Space Shuttle program. They launched on April 12, 1981 and during the two day flight, they orbited the Earth 37 times. Following this flight, Crippen was the commander of three more shuttle flights. STS-7 aboard Space Shuttle Challenger launched from the Kennedy Space Center on June 18, 1983 and after deploying two satellites and 97 orbits of the Earth, they returned with a safe landing at Edwards Air Force Base on June 24.
Crippen’s third flight to space was also aboard Challenger, STS-41C which was NASA’s 11th Space Shuttle mission. On April 6, 1984 the crew was launched into space as the first direct ascent trajectory for a shuttle mission. The crew repaired the Solar Max satellite, sent out the Long Duration Exposure Facility, and filmed highlights of the trip using an IMAX movie camera. After 108 orbits of the Earth, the crew returned on April 13, 1984. His final mission to space was STS 41-G, which launched aboard Space Shuttle Challenger on October 5, 1984 and carried the first seven man crew. The mission also involved the first EVA performed by a female. This crew also filmed the highlights of the trip with an IMAX camera before landing back to Earth on October 13, 1984.
In July 1987, Crippen was stationed at KSC, where he worked as Deputy Director, Shuttle Operations for NASA Headquarters. There he was in charge of final Shuttle preparation, mission implementation and return of the orbiter to KSC following landings at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Then, from January 1990 to January 1992, Crippen worked at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he was responsible for the overall Shuttle program including performance, budget, schedule, and program content. After he retired from the Navy, he worked as the director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center from January 1992 to January 1995. During those three years, he led thousands of civil service personnel, and the center launched and recovered 22 Space Shuttle missions.
After he left NASA in 1995, Crippen became the Vice President of Lockheed Martin Information Systems in Orlando, Florida. In November 1996, he became president of Thiokol Propulsion, which produces solid rocket motors.