My Other Vehicle Was a Spacecraft

Now that the space shuttle has retired, astronauts are rediscovering the joys of flying airplanes

(Robert Seale)

Steve Nagel - Cessna 172

Steve Nagel
(Courtesy Steve Nagel)

When former test pilot Steve Nagel married, his wife (retired astronaut Linda Godwin) was already a partner in a Mooney. The couple eventually sold the share, but later, when a good friend, a NASA flight surgeon, was looking for a partner for his Mooney 201, the Nagels bought in. “Mooneys are good airplanes—fast and efficient,” says Steve.

When Nagel was born, his father owned a Piper Cub, and when he was 12 or 13, his dad bought a Taylorcraft, which Nagel learned to fly. “I soloed in the Taylorcraft, and it had no radios,” he says. “Even in those days, when I was a teenager, I had to rent an airplane with radio equipment in it to get my pilot’s license.”

After several years in the Air Force, Nagel became a test pilot. At NASA, he flew on four space shuttle missions, then retired last June. He moved from Houston to Missouri, where he now teaches mechanical engineering at the University of Missouri at Columbia. He and his wife sold their stake of the Mooney last year, but Nagel now shares a Cessna 172 with one other owner. How does he like flying the Cessna? “It’s fun, but it is a little slow,” he says. “Nothing compares to flying [Air Force] jets. I miss doing that, but you have to quit sometime.”


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