Mission specialists for the Shuttle

In 1976, NASA announced a call for the first group of astronauts to train specifically for the Space Shuttle. In addition to the pilot category, a new type of astronaut would be accepted under the mission specialist category. These astronauts could include scientists and engineers (with or without piloting skill), who would perform duties such as EVA, satellite deployment, repair and retrieval, and the operation of scientific equipment. Because of the reduced g-forces that would be experienced during a Shuttle mission in comparison to the earlier Mercury-Gemini-Apollo programmes, the physical requirements for this new group were less stringent. There would also be no age limit and no requirement to attend jet pilot school.

Candidates had to have attained at least a Bachelor's degree in engineering, biological or physical sciences or mathematics, however, although a more advanced degree or equivalent experience was preferred. They also had to pass a Class II physical examination (which had a broader acceptable range for vision and hearing) and stand between 150 cm and 193 cm (5 feet and 6 feet 4 inches). The height parameters were now dictated by the size of the EVA suit rather than the spacecraft. Targeted recruitment drives urged minority groups, women and non-pilots to apply for the positions available.

In January 1978, the names of thirty-five new candidates were announced by NASA. They included twenty mission specialists (six of whom were women, the first selected for NASA astronaut training) with a range of academic skills. Fourteen of the mission specialists selected could have easily qualified as a third group of 'scientist-astronauts'; eleven of them held PhDs, while three others were qualified physicians: Guion Bluford - PhD in aerospace engineering; John Fabian - PhD aeronautics/ astronautics; Steven Hawley, Jeff Hoffman and George Nelson - PhD astronomy; Shannon Lucid - PhD biochemistry; Ronald McNair and Sally Ride - PhD physics; Judy Resnik - PhD electrical engineering; Kathryn Sullivan - PhD geology; James Van Hoften - PhD fluid mechanics; and Anna Fisher, Margaret Seddon and Norman Thagard - MDs.

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