David Walker

David Walker was a United States Navy officer and a NASA astronaut. He was born David Mathieson Walker on May 20, 1944 in Columbus, Georgia and graduated from Eustis High School in Eustis, Florida in 1962. He then went on to attend the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland and received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1966. Upon graduation, he went through flight training in Florida, Mississippi, and Texas and was subsequently named a Naval Aviator in December 1967. His first assignment was at Naval Air Station Miramar, California with F-4 Phantoms aboard the aircraft carriers USS Enterprise and USS America. In 1971, Walker attended the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California and was then assigned to work as a test pilot in the flight test division at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. He was also trained in the F-14 Tomcat and the F-4 Phantom. He attended the United States Navy Safety Officer School at Monterey, California, and in 1975 he was assigned to Fighter Squadron 142 at NAS Oceana, Virginia. After being deployed twice to the Mediterranean Sea aboard the USS America, Walker totaled more than 7,500 hours flying time, with over 6,500 hours in jet aircraft.

In January 1978, Walker was selected as a NASA astronaut candidate and became an astronaut a year and a half later. His initial assignments included Astronaut Office Safety Officer, mission support group leader for STS-5 and 6, Assistant to the Director of Flight Crew Operations, lead astronaut supporter at Kennedy Space Center, Branch Chief of Space Station Design and Development, and Special Manager for Assembly at the Space Station Project Office. His first flight to space was as pilot of STS-51A aboard Space Shuttle Discovery, which launched on November 8, 1984. 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. After 127 orbits of the Earth, STS-51A ended with a landing at the Kennedy Space Center on November 16, 1984. Walker was then scheduled to fly on STS-61-G; however, the mission was cancelled after the Challenger disaster. His second flight was aboard shuttle Atlantis on STS-30. The mission launched on May 4, 1989 and was a four day mission, during which the crew effectively deployed the Magellan Venus-exploration spacecraft and the first planetary probe to be deployed from the Shuttle. The crew also worked on secondary payloads involving Indium crystal growth, electrical storm, and earth observation studies. After 64 orbits of the Earth, the mission ended with the first cross-wind landing test of the Shuttle Orbiter at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Upon their return, Walker flew a NASA T-38 to Washington, D.C. for ceremonies honoring the crew of STS-30. Unfortunately, he came within 30 meters of colliding with a Pan Am jetliner and was suspended from piloting from July to September 1990.

Two years later, Walker returned to space, this time aboard Discovery. STS-53 launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on December 2, 1992 with five crew members in tow. The mission successfully deployed the classified Department of Defense payload and then performed several Military-Man-in-Space and NASA experiments. After 115 orbits of the Earth, the crew safely landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California on December 9, 1992. He then commanded STS-69, which launched on September 7, 1995. The mission successfully sent out and received two satellites: a SPARTAN and the Wake Shield Facility. After 171 orbits of the Earth, the mission landed back on Earth on September 18, 1995. In April 1996, Walker retired from both the Navy and NASA, and became Vice President of sales and marketing for NDC Voice Communications in San Diego, California. Three years later, he became Vice President of aerospace sales for Ultrafast, Inc. in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Later, he retired and moved to McCall, Idaho.

On April 23, 2001 at the age of 56, Walker died at University of Texas M.D. Anderson in Houston, Texas after a short battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife Paige and his two sons Michael and Mathieson. Throughout his life, Walker was honored for his work with numerous awards, including: Defense Superior Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, National Intelligence Achievement Medal, Legion of Merit, two Defense Meritorious Service Medals, six Navy Air Medals, Battle Efficiency Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, four NASA Space Flight Medals, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, Vietnam Service Medal, and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. He also played roles in the following organizations: Associate Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Senior Member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, United States Naval Academy Alumni Association, National Eagle Scout Association, and Former president of the Idaho Aviation Foundation.

Image Caption: David Mathieson Walker. Credit: NASA/Wikipedia