Joe Engle is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and a former NASA astronaut. He was born Joe Henry Engle on August 26, 1932 in Chapman, Kansas. He attended the University of Kansas, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1955. There he also received his commission in the Air Force through the Reserve Officers Training Program. In 1957, Engle entered flying school and flew the F-100 Super Sabre with the 474th Fighter Day Squadron and the 309th Tactical Fighter Squadron at George Air Force Base in California. He was subsequently recommended for the USAF Test Pilot School, and was later assigned to the second class of the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School. After his service at Edwards Air Force Base as a test pilot in the Fighter Test Group, he participated in the X-15 research program as a test pilot, until his assignment to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.
On June 29, 1965, Engle’s parents watched the flight that exceeded an altitude of 50 miles and qualified him for USAF astronaut wings. The following April, Engle was chosen to be a NASA astronaut. His first assignment was as a back-up lunar module pilot for the Apollo 14 mission. He was then assigned to pilot on Apollo 17, but was replaced by geologist who NASA felt was better qualified from a scientific point of view.
In June 1977, as one of the first astronauts in the Space Shuttle program, Engle became a crew commander of the Space Shuttle Approach and Landing Test Flights. During the flights, a Boeing 747 aircraft carried the space shuttle Enterprise to 25,000 feet and then released it for its two minute glide to landing. As commander, Engle assessed both the handling and landing qualities of the Orbiter and accessed the stability, control, and performance data in the subsonic flight envelope for the Space Shuttle.
Engle’s first space flight was also the first orbital flight of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, STS-1. Space Shuttle Columbia launched with Engle as the backup commander on April 12, 1981 and orbited the Earth 37 times during the two day mission. Seven months later, on November 12, 1981, Engle launched from Kennedy Space Center as commander of STS-2, the second flight of Columbia. During this flight he became the first and only pilot to manually fly an aerospace vehicle from Mach 25, which is 25 times faster than the speed of sound, to landing. Engle then went to serve as Deputy Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight at NASA Headquarters from March to December 1982. During this time however, he retained his flight astronaut status and was able to return to Johnson Space Center in January 1983. His last flight to space was as mission commander on STS-51-I aboard space shuttle Discovery. It launched from the Kennedy Space Center on August 27, 1985 and deployed three communications satellites. It also carried out a successful on-orbit rendezvous and manual repair of the disabled SYNCOM communications satellite. In total, Engle logged over 225 hours in space.
In November 1986, Engle retired from the United States Air Force, and the following month he was chosen to be a part of the Kansas Air National Guard as a Major General. In 1992, he was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor, and in 2001 he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame as well as the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Florida. Engle currently works as an aerospace and sporting goods consultant, and continues an active flying career. He is married to the former Jeanie Carter, and has two grown children and one stepchild. Engle remains the only human being who has flown two different types of winged vehicles in space, the X-15 and the Space Shuttle.
Image Caption: Portrait former NASA Astronaut Joe Engle. Credit: NASA/Wikipedia