Before joining NASA, Scott Altman's claim to fame was as a stand-in for Tom Cruise during the making of the movie 'Top Gun'. In 1986, he was attached to Fighter Squadron 51 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar, during which time he completed two deployments to the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans, flying the F-14A Tomcat. It was in this capacity that he performed several stunts for Cruise's blockbuster. Little did Altman know that 12 years later he would strap into a far bigger and more powerful vehicle: as Pilot of Space Shuttle Columbia, for his first trip into orbit.
In doing so, the newly promoted US Navy Commander would, at over 6 feet, also form part of the tallest crew ever launched into space. Five of Columbia's seven astronauts for the 16-day STS-90 mission exceeded 6 feet in height, with another coming close; in fact, only diminutive Mission Specialist Kay Hire, who became the first KSC employee to fly into space, missed the mark by a considerable margin. Joining Altman and Hire were four science crew members - Payload Commander Rick Linnehan, Mission Specialist Dave Williams and Payload Specialists Jay Buckey and Jim Pawelczyk - and veteran Commander Rick Searfoss.
The qualifications of the science crew - Linnehan was a veterinarian, Williams and Buckey were physicians and Pawelczyk a physiologist - and the mission's name, 'Neurolab', implied that STS-90 was a medical and biological research flight. In fact, it was also the final mission of the versatile Spacelab module and the last dedicated life sciences flight on the Shuttle's agenda before anticipated long-duration research commenced on board the International Space Station in the summer of 1999. With this last throw of the dice for the life sciences community, Searfoss was happy to participate in as many experiments as possible.
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