C. Gordon Fullerton

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C. Gordon Fullerton
USAF / NASA Astronaut
Born(1936-10-11)October 11, 1936
Rochester, New York, U.S.
DiedAugust 21, 2013(2013-08-21) (aged 76)
Lancaster, California, U.S.
Other names
Charles Gordon Fullerton
Other occupation
Engineer, test pilot
RankUS-O6 insignia.svg Colonel, USAF
Time in space
15d 22h 50min
Selection1966 USAF MOL Group 2
1969 NASA Group 7
MissionsALT, STS-3, STS-51-F
Mission insignia
Space Shuttle Enterprise logo.png Sts3-patch.png Sts-51-f-patch.png
RetirementDecember 31, 2007
AwardsDfc-usa.jpg NASA Distinguished Service Medal.jpg

Charles Gordon Fullerton (October 11, 1936 – August 21, 2013) was a United States Air Force colonel, a USAF and NASA astronaut, and a research pilot at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Facility, Edwards, California.[1] His assignments included a variety of flight research and support activities piloting NASA's B-52 launch aircraft, the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), and other multi-engine and high performance aircraft. Fullerton, who logged more than 380 hours in space flight, was a NASA astronaut from September 1969 until November 1986 when he joined the research pilot office at Dryden. In July 1988, he completed a 30-year career with the U.S. Air Force and retired as a colonel. He continued in his position of NASA research pilot as a civilian. Fullerton and his wife and their two children lived in Lancaster, California.


Early years and education

Born October 11, 1936, in Rochester, New York, Fullerton graduated from U.S. Grant High School, Portland, Oregon, in 1953.[2] He received Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, in 1957 and 1958, respectively.[3]

Air Force career

Fullerton entered the U.S. Air Force in July 1958 after working as a mechanical design engineer for Hughes Aircraft Company, Culver City, California.[3]

After primary and basic flight school, he was trained as an F-86 interceptor pilot, and later became a B-47 bomber pilot at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. In 1964 he was chosen to attend the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School (now the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School), Edwards Air Force Base, California. Upon graduation he was assigned as a test pilot with the Bomber Operations Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. In 1966, Fullerton was selected for and served as a flight crew member for the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program until its termination in 1969.[3]

NASA career

Fullerton (in spacesuit) training aboard a KC-135 "zero-gravity" aircraft in 1981

Fullerton joined NASA in September 1969 after the cancellation of the MOL program. After assignment to the NASA Johnson Space Center as an astronaut, Fullerton served on the support crews for the Apollo 14, 15, 16, and 17 lunar missions.[3]

In 1977, Fullerton was assigned to one of the two-man flight crews which piloted the Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise during the Approach and Landing Tests Program at Dryden that same year.[4]

Fullerton was the Pilot on the eight-day STS-3 Space Shuttle orbital flight test mission March 22–30, 1982. Launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the mission exposed the orbiter Columbia to extremes in thermal stress and tested the 50-foot (15 m) Canadarm used to grapple and maneuver payloads to orbit.[3] STS-3 landed at Northrup Strip, White Sands, New Mexico, because Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards AFB was wet due to heavy seasonal rains.[3]

The crew of the STS-51-F mission with Fullerton seated in the foreground

Fullerton was Commander of the STS-51-F "Spacelab 2" mission, launched from Kennedy Space Center on July 29, 1985. This mission, with the orbiter Challenger, was the first pallet-only Spacelab mission and the first to operate the Spacelab Instrument Pointing System (IPS). It carried 13 major experiments in the fields of astronomy, solar physics, ionospheric science, life science, and a super fluid helium experiment. The mission ended August 6, 1985, with a landing at Dryden.[4]

Research test pilot career

Fullerton served as project pilot on the NASA/Convair 990 aircraft which has been modified as a Landing Systems Research Aircraft to test space shuttle landing gear components.[1] Additionally, Fullerton was also project pilot on F-18 Systems Research Aircraft, a test bed to develop new flight control actuators, fiber optic control systems, and other advanced aircraft technology.[1]

As the project pilot on the Propulsion Controlled Aircraft program, he successfully landed an F-15 and an MD-11 with all control surfaces fixed, using only engine thrust modulation for control.[1][4]

In addition to these activities, Fullerton was a project pilot on a number of other research programs at Dryden. Among them were the C-140 Jetstar Laminar Flow Control, F-111 Mission Adaptive Wing, F-14 Variable Sweep Flow Transition, space shuttle orbiter drag chute and F-111 crew module parachute tests with the B-52, and X-29 vortex flow control.[1] As project pilot on the B-52 launch aircraft, Fullerton was involved in tests to develop a new F-111 crew module recovery system. He also flew the B-52 for the first six mid-air launchings of the commercially developed Pegasus space vehicle.[5]

Fullerton was one of two NASA pilots who flew the Russian-built Tu-144LL supersonic aircraft used in a joint high speed research program.[6]

With over 16,000 hours of flying time, Fullerton piloted 135 different types of aircraft, including full qualification in the T-33, T-34, T-37, T-39, F-86, F-101, F-106, F-111, F-14, X-29, KC-135, C-140, and B-47.[3] After joining Dryden as a research pilot, Fullerton piloted nearly all the research and support aircraft flown at the facility, including the T-38, F-18, F-15, B-52, NASA/Convair 990, 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, and the DC-8.[1]

Later years and death

Fullerton retired in 2007.[2] He suffered a stroke in 2009 and was cared for in a facility in Lancaster, California, where he died from complications on August 21, 2013, aged 76.[3]

Awards and honors

Military and government awards

Defense Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg Defense Distinguished Service Medal[4]
Defense Superior Service Medal ribbon.svg Defense Superior Service Medal[4]
Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon.svg Distinguished Flying Cross[4]
NasaDisRib.gif NASA Distinguished Service Medal[4]
USA - NASA Excep Rib.png NASA Exceptional Service Medal[4]
Bronze oak leaf cluster
NASA Space Flight Medal (1983 and 1985)[4]

Other awards and honors


  1. ^ a b c d e f NASA biography of Gordon Fullerton, retrieved November 17, 2009
  2. ^ a b c d Bailey Jr., Everton (August 22, 2013). "Astronaut, former Portlander, dies at 76". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. p. B3. Retrieved August 24, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Robert Z. Pearlman (2013). "Gordon Fullerton, space shuttle test pilot, dies at 76". collectSPACE. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Gordon Fullerton NASA Biography". NASA. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  5. ^ "Orbital names next space station freighter for late pilot-astronaut". collectSPACE.com. December 9, 2013.
  6. ^ "Research Pilot C. Gordon Fullerton in Cockpit of TU-144LL SST Flying Laboratory". NASA DFRC.