Air Force Featured Stories

Former astronaut, AF test pilot dies

  • Published
  • By Alan Brown
  • NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

C. Gordon Fullerton, who compiled a distinguished career as a NASA astronaut, research pilot and Air Force test pilot spanning almost 50 years, died Aug. 21. He was 76.


Fullerton logged 382 hours in space flight on two space shuttle missions while serving in the NASA astronaut corps from September 1969 until November 1986. He then joined the Flight Crew Branch at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, where he served for 22 years as a research test pilot on a variety of high-profile projects.


During the latter years of his career at NASA Dryden, he served as Associate Director of Flight Operations and as chief of the directorate's flight crew branch, often called its chief pilot, responsible for a variety of flight research and administrative support activities.


A native of Portland, Ore., Fullerton earned Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., in 1957 and l958, respectively. After working briefly as a mechanical design engineer for Hughes Aircraft Co., he then entered the U. S. Air Force in July 1958.


Following flight school, Fullerton was first trained as an F-86 interceptor pilot, and later became a B-47 bomber pilot at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Ariz. He was then selected to attend the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School (now the Air Force Test Pilot School), Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in 1964.


Upon graduation he was assigned as a test pilot with the Bomber Operations Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. His test flying experience led to his being selected to be a flight crewmember for the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory program from 1966 until that program was canceled in 1969.


Fullerton was then assigned by the Air Force to NASA's astronaut corps at the NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, where he served on the support crews for the Apollo 14, 15, 16, and 17 lunar missions.


In 1977, Fullerton was assigned to one of the two flight crews that piloted the space shuttle prototype Enterprise during the Approach and Landing Test program at Dryden. Fullerton was the pilot on the eight-day STS-3 space shuttle orbital flight test mission March 22-30, 1982. The mission exposed the orbiter Columbia to extremes in thermal stress and tested the 50-foot Remote Manipulator System used to grapple and maneuver payloads in orbit. That mission became the only space shuttle mission to land at White Sands, N.M., because Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards was too wet to support a landing due to heavy seasonal rains.

Fullerton was commander of the STS-51F Spacelab 2 mission, launched on July 29, 1985. That mission, on the shuttle orbiter Challenger, was the first pallet-only Spacelab mission and the first to operate the Spacelab Instrument Pointing System. It carried 13 major experiments in the fields of astronomy, solar physics and ionospheric, life and materiel science. The mission ended Aug. 6, 1985, with a landing at Edwards.