Donald H. Peterson

Donald H. Peterson
Donald Peterson-NASA-file-photo.jpg
Donald Herod Peterson

(1933-10-22)October 22, 1933
Died May 27, 2018(2018-05-27) (aged 84)
Nationality American
Alma mater USMA, B.S. 1955
AFIT, M.S. 1962
Occupation Fighter pilot, test pilot, engineer
Space career
USAF/NASA astronaut
Rank US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel, USAF
Time in space
5 days 23 minutes
Selection 1967 USAF MOL Group 3
1969 NASA Group 7
Total EVAs
Total EVA time
4 hours 17 minutes
Missions STS-6
Mission insignia
Retirement November 1984

Donald Herod Peterson (October 22, 1933 – May 27, 2018) was a United States Air Force officer and NASA astronaut. Peterson was originally selected for the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program, but, when that was canceled, he became a NASA astronaut in September 1969. He was a mission specialist on STS-6 on board Challenger. During the mission Peterson performed a spacewalk to test the new airlock and space suits. He logged 120 hours in space. Peterson retired from NASA in 1984.


Early life and education

Donald Peterson was born in Winona, Mississippi, on October 22, 1933.[1]:255 Peterson graduated from Winona High School in 1951.[2][1]:255 One of his high school teachers said, "I never did hear any adverse criticism of him by students or teachers. He was just superior."[3]

Peterson desired financial help for college, and after listening to a Navy recruiter's speech, elected to join a service academy.[4] He enrolled in the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1955, electing to join the Air Force.[1][5] He was commissioned as a second lieutenant.[1]:255

After working with Air Training Command until 1960, he was asked if he would be interested in getting a degree in nuclear engineering so he could join a program involving aircraft powered by a nuclear reactor.[5] He enrolled in nuclear engineering at the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology.[5] Six months before graduation, the program was cancelled.[1]:255 He earned his Master of Science degree in 1962.[5] He also worked towards his Ph.D at the University of Texas.[1]:255

USAF career

After graduating from West Point in 1955, his assignments included four years as a flight instructor and military training officer with the Air Training Command, three years as a nuclear systems analyst with the Air Force Systems Command, and one year as a fighter pilot with Tactical Air Command, including three months of combat weapons training.[5]

He was a graduate of the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California, and was one of the third group of astronauts assigned to the USAF Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program.[5]

He logged over 5,300 hours flying time, including more than 5,000 hours in jet aircraft.[5]

NASA career

Peterson and Musgrave performing the Shuttle's first EVA during STS-6

Peterson became part of NASA Astronaut Group 7 in September 1969 after the MOL program was cancelled.[1]:255 He served on the astronaut support crew for Apollo 16.[1]:254

Peterson retired from the United States Air Force with the rank of colonel after having completed more than 24 years of active service, but continued his assignment as a NASA astronaut in a civilian capacity.[4] His areas of responsibility included engineering support, man/machine interface, and safety assessment.[5]

Medical issues likely prevented Peterson from training as a space shuttle pilot.[6] He was a mission specialist on STS-6, which launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on April 4, 1983.[5] He was accompanied by Paul J. Weitz (spacecraft commander), Col. Karol J. Bobko (Pilot), and Dr. Story Musgrave (Mission Specialist).[5] The crew had a combined 111 years of flying experience and an average age of 48 years and 5 months.[7] The crew was dubbed "The Geritol Bunch" for their high experience.[7]

During this maiden voyage of the spacecraft Challenger, the STS-6 crew conducted numerous experiments in materials processing, recorded lightning activities, deployed the first tracking and data relay satellite (TDRS-A), and activated three Getaway Specials. Peterson and Musgrave conducted the Shuttle program's first extravehicular activity (EVA) to test the new suit, the Shuttle airlock, and new tools and techniques for construction and repair outside a spacecraft.[8][1]:254 After 120 hours of orbital operations STS-6 landed on the concrete runway at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on April 9, 1983. With the completion of this flight, Don Peterson had logged 4 hours 15 minutes in extravehicular activity and a total of 120 hours in space.[5]

Post-NASA career

Peterson resigned from the NASA Astronaut Corps in November 1984 and worked as a consultant in the area of manned aerospace operations.[5]

Personal life and death

Peterson married Bonnie Ruth Love in 1957.[9] They had three children. She died in 2017.[10] He died on May 27, 2018, at his home in El Lago, Texas, of Alzheimer's disease and bone cancer, at the age of 84.[11][12]


He was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the JSC Group Achievement Award (1972).[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Shayler, David; Burgess, Colin. The Last of NASA's Original Pilot Astronauts: Expanding the Space Frontier in the Late Sixties.
  2. ^ "Men in the News". New York Times. April 5, 1983. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  3. ^ "Mrs. Ruth Smith remembers Don Peterson, the student". The Winona Times. May 5, 1983. p. 66. Retrieved January 20, 2018 – via
  4. ^ a b Talley, Olive (March 26, 1983). "For Don Peterson, science fiction becomes reality". UPI. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Donald Peterson NASA Biography". NASA. Retrieved December 31, 2017.
  6. ^ Shayler, David J.; Burgess, Colin (2017). The last of NASA's original pilot astronauts : expanding the space frontier in the late sixties. Cham: Springer. p. 318. ISBN 9783319510149. OCLC 990337270.
  7. ^ a b "Challenger bunch gets 'Geritol Bunch' tag". Springfield Leader and Press. April 10, 1983. p. 10. Retrieved January 20, 2018 – via
  8. ^ "NASA Plans to Extend U.S. Presence in Space". Springfield Leader and Press. April 10, 1983. p. 10. Retrieved January 20, 2018 – via
  9. ^ "Donald H. Peterson, Sr". Crowder Funeral Home. May 28, 2018. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  10. ^ "Bonnie Ruth Love". Crowder Funeral Home. August 23, 2017. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  11. ^ "Obituary: Astronaut Donald Peterson". Collect Space. May 28, 2018. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  12. ^ "Donald Peterson Sr, Who Spacewalked the Challenger, Dies at 84". The Washington Post. May 29, 2018. Retrieved May 30, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External links

 This article incorporates public domain material from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration website