The Long Wait

The departure of Curt Michel from the astronaut programme in 1969 left four scientists from the 1965 selection (Garriott, Gibson, Kerwin and Schmitt) and nine from the 1967 selection (Allen, Chapman, England, Henize, Holmquest, Lenoir, Musgrave, Parker and Thornton) still at NASA. For the four remaining members of the 1965 scientist-astronaut group, the time between selection and first flight had been seven or eight years, with Schmitt flying to the Moon on Apollo 17 in 1972 and Kerwin, Garriott and Gibson flying to the Skylab space station during 1973. For the members of the 1967 selection, however, the wait would be considerably longer. With the Apollo-type spacecraft and Saturn launch system now defunct following the joint flight with the Russians in 1975 (the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project), the 1967 astronauts would have to await the introduction of the Space Shuttle for their chance of a space flight. For some, this wait would be too long and they would leave the agency without making a flight. Others decided to persevere, keeping themselves fit and available for an early Shuttle flight.

Originally intended to make orbital flights in the late 1970s, it was not until the early 1980s that the Shuttle was finally sent into orbit. It was quickly certified to progress from orbital test flights to full operational mission status. The long wait for the remaining 1967 scientist-astronaut members at last seemed worth it, as they finally saw their chance to fly into space. But with the first of their group flying in 1982 and the last active member making his first flight in 1985, it was still a long wait of fifteen to eighteen years between selection and launch, with the added frustration of seeing members of the 1969 (former MOL astronaut transfers) and 1978 (first Shuttle era) groups flying before them.

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