To understand just how long the space shuttle has been flying, and how many generations of astronauts it has ferried to orbit, consider this: Of the six men assigned to the 134th and next-to-last mission (pictured), four weren’t even born when the first shuttle commander, John Young, joined NASA in 1962.
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Young, 80 (photo, left), and his STS-1 pilot Bob Crippen, 73, are now retired, as are almost all the original shuttle astronauts — the Apollo-era holdovers as well as the “Thirty-Five New Guys,” as they called themselves, hired in 1978 to fly the new reusable spaceplane. The younger pilots, engineers, and scientists who replaced those first shuttlenauts had the same fire for space travel, says Crippen. They were “Type-A personalities who want to press forward and do something adventurous.”
They were also a diverse bunch. What’s most surprising about the first group portrait in our gallery is how similar the shuttle’s first and last crews appear: all white men, mostly ex-military pilots. Thirty years ago, that was expected. Now it looks odd. The people who flew on the shuttle — 363 altogether — came from many backgrounds, races, and nationalities. They changed the face of spaceflight.
Air & Space Senior Editor Tony Reichhardt has been writing about the shuttle since the launch of STS-1 in 1981. He is the editor of the 2002 book Space Shuttle, The First 20 Years: The Astronauts’ Experiences in Their Own Words.
After working as a photojournalist at several newspapers and as a staff photographer at a national sports magazine, Robert Seale now specializes in location portraits for magazines and corporations.