John Blaha is an engineer, a retired United States Air Force Colonel, and a former NASA astronaut. He was born John Elmer Blaha on August 26, 1942 in San Antonio, Texas. He graduated from Granby High School in Norfolk, Virginia in 1960, and then went on to attend the United States Air Force Academy, where he received a Bachelor of Science in engineering science in 1965. Just one year later, he earned a Master of Science in astronautical engineering from Purdue University.
In 1967, Blaha received his pilot wings from Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. He was then assigned as an operational pilot flying F-4, F-102, F-106, and A-37 aircrafts. He went on to attend the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California, and upon completing his training in 1971, he served as an F-104 instructor pilot, teaching low lift-to-drag approach, zoom, performance, stability/control, and spin flight test techniques. In 1973, he was reassigned to work with the Royal Air Force, where he served as a test pilot at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment in Boscombe Down, United Kingdom. During his three year tour, he flew stability/control, performance, spin, and weapons delivery flight tests in the SEPECAT Jaguar, Blackburn Buccaneer, BAE Hawk, and BAC Jet Provost aircrafts. In 1976, he returned to the United States and attended the USAF Air Command and Staff College. After graduation, he was selected to work for the Assistant Chief of Staff, Studies and Analyses, at Headquarters USAF in the Pentagon, where he presented F-15 Eagle and F-16 study results to Department of Defense, State Department, and congressional staffs.
In May 1980, NASA chose Blaha as an astronaut. His first flight aboard shuttle Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Center on March 13, 1989 with Blaha as the pilot. The STS-29 mission deployed the East Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, as well as conducted eight scientific experiments. Five days later, they safely landed at Edwards Air Force Base. The STS-33 mission, also aboard Discovery, launched the evening of November 22, 1989. Blaha piloted the shuttle as it carried Department of Defense payloads and other secondary freight. After 79 orbits of the Earth, the mission ended with a landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Blaha was spacecraft Commander on STS-43 aboard Atlantis. The nine-day mission was launched on August 2, 1991. While in space, the crew deployed the West Tracking and Data Relay Satellite and conducted 32 physical, material, and life science experiments that supported the development of the Extended Duration Orbiter and Space Station. The mission concluded with a landing on Runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center on August 11, 1991. On October 18, 1993, Blaha went into space for the fourth time aboard shuttle Columbia. The STS-58 mission crew performed neurovestibular, cardiovascular, cardiopulmonary, metabolic, and musculoskeletal medical experiments on themselves and 48 rats, which ultimately greatened scientists’ knowledge of human and animal physiology. The crew also conducted 16 engineering tests aboard the Orbiter Columbia and 20 Extended Duration Orbiter Medical Project experiments. The successful mission landed on November 1, 1993 after two weeks in space. NASA has since recognized the mission as the most successful and efficient Spacelab flight that NASA has flown.
In August 1994, Blaha began to prepare for his stay on the Mir Space Station by enrolling in Russian language training at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, as well as beginning an intensive training program at the Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. Two years later, on September 16, 1996, Blaha launched on STS-79. After docking, he transferred to the Mir Space Station. There he worked as a Board Engineer 2 and spent the following 4 months with the Mir 22 Cosmonaut crew conducting material science, fluid science, and life science research. Blaha returned to Earth aboard STS-81 on January 22, 1997. Due to the fact that he was in space before the ballots were completed and did not return until after Election Day, Blaha was not permitted to vote in the November 1996 election. However, Texas responded to this predicament by revising its election statutes to allow voting from outer space. In addition to his flight missions, Blaha has served as the Chairman on the NASA Space Flight Safety Panel and as a member of the NASA Space Shuttle Improvement Panel.
Blaha retired from NASA in September 1997 and returned to San Antonio, Texas. During his career with NASA and the United States Air Force, Blaha received many honors, including the Russian Order of Friendship, two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, a NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, a NASA Exceptional Service Medal, five NASA Space Flight Medals, a Defense Superior Service Medal, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Defense Meritorious Service Medal, three Meritorious Service Medals, 18 Air Medals, an Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. Blaha currently lives in Texas with his wife Brenda. They have three grown children and two grandchildren. Blaha works on the executive management team of the United Services Automobile Association.