Dale Gardner is a former NASA astronaut. He was born Dale Allan Gardner on November 8, 1948 in Fairmont, Minnesota. Gardner grew up both in Minnesota and Savanna, Illinois, but he considers Clinton, Iowa to be his hometown. He graduated from Savanna Community High School in 1966 as valedictorian of his class. He then went on to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Physics in 1970. With his degree in hand, he joined the United States Navy and was initially assigned to the Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida. In October 1970, he began training as a Naval Flight Officer with the VT-10 squadron. Gardner was able to finish not only at the top of his class, but also with the highest academic average ever achieved in the squadron. He then extended his training to include Advanced Flight Officer training at the Naval Technical Training Center at Glynco, Georgia, where he was a Distinguished Naval Graduate and awarded his Naval Flight Officer wings on May 5, 1971. Upon receiving his wings, Gardner immediately reported to the Naval Air Test Center in Maryland to work as a Project Officer for Inertial Navigation and Avionics Systems in the Weapons Systems Test Division. In July 1973, he was reassigned to the first operational F-14 squadron at Naval Air Station Miramar in California. There he flew in the Tomcat and went on two Western Pacific and Indian Ocean cruises aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. From December 1976 until July 1978, Gardner worked on testing and evaluating the Navy fighter aircraft at Test and Evaluation Squadron 4 in Point Mugu.
In January 1978, Gardner was chosen to be a NASA Astronaut Candidate and the following July, he left Point Mugu and reported to the Johnson Space Center. A month later he began a year long training and evaluation, and in August 1978 he became eligible for assignment as a Mission Specialist Astronaut. His initial work was as the Astronaut Project Manager for the flight software in the Space Shuttle onboard computers, which lead up to the first flight in April 1981. He also served as a Support Crew Astronaut for the fourth flight, STS-4. Gardner’s first flight to space was on STS-8 aboard Space Shuttle Challenger. The mission launched at night from the Kennedy Space Center on August 30, 1983. Throughout the mission, the crew sent out the Indian National Satellite, worked with the Canadian-build Remote Manipulator System robot arm, and carried out various experiments. After 98 orbits of the Earth, the mission concluded with a landing at Edwards Air Force Base on September 5, 1983. A year later, Gardner was launched into space for the second time, this time on STS-51A aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. The launch took place on November 8, 1984, which also happened to be his birthday. The crew successfully deployed two satellites: Canada’s ANIK D-2 and the Hughes’ LEASAT-1. Most importantly, the crew made the first space salvage attempt in history and successfully retrieved the Palapa B-2 and Westar VI communications satellites, which had been improperly launched into orbit. Gardner and fellow crew member Joseph Allen performed two space walks, and after 127 orbits of the Earth, STS-51A ended with a landing at the Kennedy Space Center on November 16, 1984. Gardner was scheduled to be a member of the first Shuttle mission to launch from Prior to the Challenger accident, Gardner was chosen to be a member of the first Shuttle mission to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California; however, the mission was cancelled due to the Challenger accident.
In October 1986, Gardner retired from NASA and resumed his service in the Navy. He went to Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado to serve as the Deputy Chief of the Space Control Operations Division until June 1989, when he was promoted to the rank of Captain. He then went to Peterson Air Force Base, where he served as the Command’s Deputy Director for Space Control. Gardner retired from the U.S. Navy in October 1990. He and his wife currently live in Golden, Colorado, where he works as a program manager and civilian defense developer in the Colorado Springs Engineering Operations of TRW’s Space and Defense Sector. He has earned numerous awards and honors, including the Defense Superior Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Humanitarian Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, NASA Space Flight Medal, Master Space Badge, and Lloyd’s of London Meritorious Service Medal.
Image Caption: Dale A. Gardner. Credit: NASA/Wikipedia