Norman Earl Thagard

Norman Earl Thagard is considered to be the first American cosmonaut. He is an American scientist and has retired from being a NASA astronaut after his selection in 1978. He also achieved Medical Doctor and climbed the ranks in the United States Marine Corps to Captain. Thagard logged 140 days, 13 hours and 24 minutes in space before retirement. He currently is a professor at the Florida State University in the College of Engineering.

Thagard was born in Marianna, Florida on July 3, 1943 to James E Thagard and Mary F Key. He was raised in Jacksonville, Florida and attended Paxon High School where he graduated in 1961. He went on to Florida State University and accomplished a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Science in 1965. Only one year later in 1966, he received his Masters of Science at the same university.

Thagard moved to Dallas, Texas in 1977 to attend the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and earned a doctor of medicine degree. Still not through with education, he again returned to the University of Florida in 2007 to receive a Master’s in Business administration.

While Thagard’s academic accomplishments are numerous, he continued to work during his studies in order to prepare for the eventual selection by NASA. In September of 1966 he joined the USMC Reserves. In only one year he moved up to Captain and then to Naval Aviator in 1968. As part of his assignment, he flew F-4 Phantom IIs with VMFA-333 in South Carolina, completed 163 combat missions in Vietnam with VMFA-115 and then returned as an Aviation Weapons Division Officer with VMFA-251 at South Carolina.

After completing his time in USMC Reserves, Thagard returned to his education and completed his degrees while interning in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina.

In January of 1978, Thagard’s accomplishments were validated with NASA’s selection of Thagard to the space program. He finished his year of training and became eligible for selection as a mission specialist.

His first mission out of Kennedy Space Center with the crew of STS-7 was on June 18, 1983. On the Orbiter Challenger, the crew was able to deploy satellites for Canada (ANIK C-2) and also for Indonesia (Palapa B1). The crew used the Canadian-produced Remote Manipulator System (RMS) to launch and retrieve the Shuttle Pallet Satellite (SPAS-01), operated the first US/German cooperative materials science payload (OSTA-2), and operated the Continued Flow Electrophoresis System (CFES) and the Monodisperse Latex Reactor (MLR) experiments. Thagard also collected medical data about the crew as a physician for future projects. The crew returned to Edwards Air Force Base in California on June 24, 1983 after 147 hours.

Again launching from Kennedy on April 29, 1985, Thagard joined the STS-51-B aboard the Challenger for his second mission that lasted 168 hours. His duties included caring for and collecting data on livestock in the Research Animal Holding Facility (RAHF). The crew returned to Earth after 110 orbits on May 6, 1985 to Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Thagard participated in a third mission, STS-30 aboard the Orbiter Atlantis on May 4, 1989 launching from Kennedy Space Center. On this four day mission, the Magellan-Venus exploration spacecraft was deployed. This planetary probe, the first planet exploration since 1978, arrived at Venus in 1990. Magellan-Venus mapped the entire surface of the planet using specialized radar instruments. This mission lasted 64 orbits and 97 hours before returning to Edwards Air Force Base on May 8, 1989.

On the next mission, STS-42 aboard the Shuttle Discovery, Thagard served as a payload commander. Launching from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, this mission completed fifty-five major experiments which accomplished the goal of the mission. The eight day mission returned to Edwards Air Force Base on January 30, 1992.

Thagard’s last mission began on March 14, 1995 from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakstan. He was a crew member for the Russian Mir 18 mission. After 115 days in space, the mission came to a close at the Kennedy Space Center on the Space Shuttle Atlantis on July 7, 1995.

Image Caption: NASA Astronaut Norman E. Thagard. Credit: NASA/Wikipedia