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Flying High

Flying HighAlum among first shuttle astronauts selected for U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Titusville, Fl.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.30.01] When NASA needed a natural leader and national hero during one of the most difficult periods in the agency's history, it turned to Rick Hauck. He seemed the like the natural choice -- during three historic space flights in the 1980s, the Tufts graduate racked up hundreds of hours in space and built a reputation for intelligence, ambition and courage. This week, he added one more accolade to his already impressive career -- selection to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Hauck's selection is as historic as his space flights, as it marks the first time a shuttle commander was chosen for the honor. Later this year, the 1962 Tufts graduate, along with three other shuttle commanders, will be officially enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Selection for the Hall is a high honor, as it pays tribute to the pioneers of American space exploration, including 44 astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz programs.

Calling them shuttle pioneers, astronaut James Lovell -- who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993 -- said Hauck and his colleagues are among "some of America's finest astronauts."

For Hauck -- who spent over a decade in NASA as a pilot, astronaut and policy advisor -- the honor is just the latest example of the pilot's dedication to the U.S. space program. But he built his reputation at NASA with three historic space missions -- including the first space flight following the Challenger disaster.

As he prepared to fly that mission, New York's Newsday described why NASA wanted the veteran flier to lead the extremely important mission back to space.

"Rick Hauck could be considered the Top Gun of the nation's astronaut corps," reported the newspaper. "The people who have known him the longest describe him as an easy going but quietly ambitious man who always seemed emotionally armored. And in many ways, he is the embodiment of the modern American space traveler: dispassionate, purposeful, seemingly devoid of eccentricity, doubt and fear."

The 1988 mission may have been the most important for the nation's modern space program. After the Challenger disaster, NASA needed to prove that manned space exploration would again be possible. And they chose a veteran crew for the mission.

"According to NASA officials, [Hauck and his other crew members] represent one of the most seasoned, cohesive shuttle crews NASA has ever put together, a team of cool-headed space professionals who know their business and how to work together," the Boston Globe reported.

NASA turned to Hauck -- who was compared to the early astronaut pioneers by many media organizations -- to command the top-notch Discovery crew.

"Technically, he's as good as they come," fellow Discovery crew member George Nelson told Newsday. "And, politically he's also very adroit at working with management, working with folks at all levels of the program and that's been a big part of his job on this mission. And working with the crew, Rick is the ultimate straight shooter."

President Ronald Reagan even called Hauck and his colleagues "the hope of the future."

That mission ended as his others did -- flawlessly. But it wasn't the first time the astronaut had made NASA history.

The first of his astronaut class to fly in space and the first to command a mission, Hauck piloted the first flight to carry a female American astronaut into space -- during a 1983 Challenger mission.

The following year, Hauck "commanded history's first space salvage mission when he and four crew members blasted off in Discovery to successfully retrieve two communications satellites in useless orbits," reported officials from the Hall of Fame.

While friends and colleagues attributed Hauck's success to his talents as a pilot and leader, the Tufts alum and trustee takes a slightly different view.

"I don't like to fail," Hauck told Newsday before he piloted the Discovery mission in 1988. "I think a lot of that was my motivation. I don't know what it was when I was growing up that made me want to excel. There 's part of it, I'm sure, in my nature that you like the feedback you get when someone says you're doing a good job."

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