Astronaut Hartsfield dies at 80

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Hartsfield flew on three shuttle missions including as commander of the Discovery’s maiden flight, NASA space agency said on Saturday. He died after a prolonged illness.

In 1982, Hartsfield piloted Columbia on the final test flight orbiter. He spent a week in space as part of a two-person crew. After landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California, Hartsfield and his partner were welcomed by President Ronald Reagan and a crowd of 1 million spectators.

Talking about the STS-4 mission, Hartsfield has said in a 2006 interview: “‘Operational,’ to me, is a tough term to explain. In my view, the whole time we were flying the space shuttle it was a test vehicle, although we called it operational. We used it and did a lot of great things but it was not operational by the way I look at it, having been a test pilot and looking at airplanes.”

In 1984, Hartsfield commanded the first mission of Discovery and in 1985 he commanded the last successful mission of the Challenger. The same spacecraft exploded after liftoff on January 28, 1986.

Hartsfield spent over 20 days in space during his shuttle career. He was a native of Alabama and has studied physics, astronautics and engineering and served as a fighter pilot in the US Air Force. Hartsfiled also became a test pilot and instructor before successfully winning the astronaut assignment in 1966.

In 1969, Hartsfield joined NASA serving on the support crews for Apollo 16 and several Skylab and shuttle missions. Hartsfield then retired from the Air Force but remained a civilian astronaut at NASA. He also played am important role developing the shuttle entry flight control system.

After retiring as an astronaut, Hartsfield held NASA administrative posts in Washington, Houston and Huntsville, Alabama.

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