Former NASA Astronaut Karol ‘Bo’ Bobko, known for flying three shuttle missions, passes away at the age of 85

Karol “Bo” Bobko, a renowned NASA astronaut who made significant contributions to the space program, passed away at the age of 85. As the only astronaut to fly on the first launch of two space shuttle orbiters, Bobko left a lasting impact on space exploration.

Born on December 23, 1937, in New York City, Bobko had a remarkable career that spanned over several decades. He joined NASA in 1969 as part of the agency’s seventh group of astronauts. However, unlike other groups, Bobko and his six fellow members were originally part of the U.S. Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program. When the MOL program was canceled, NASA absorbed the seven youngest members into its astronaut corps.

Bobko’s journey to space was not immediate. It took 14 years before he had the opportunity to fly on his first mission. On April 4, 1983, as the pilot of the space shuttle Challenger, Bobko embarked on mission STS-6. This mission stood out for various reasons, including being the first flight of Challenger, the first lightweight external fuel tank launch, and the deployment of the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-1. Additionally, STS-6 marked the first spacewalk from a space shuttle.

While the mission had its challenges, such as the orbiter’s guidance computer going offline, Bobko and his crew successfully resolved the issues and completed their objectives. Bobko’s expertise was instrumental in ensuring the safety and success of the mission.

Bobko’s second spaceflight came on April 12, 1985, as the commander of space shuttle Discovery for mission STS-51D. This mission featured Senator Jake Garn of Utah, the first sitting member of Congress to fly into space. Despite Garn experiencing motion sickness during the flight, Bobko praised him as a valuable crew member. STS-51D also marked the first unplanned spacewalk in U.S. history when two astronauts had to perform an extravehicular activity to rescue a malfunctioning satellite.

On October 3, 1985, Bobko commanded his final spaceflight, STS-51J. This mission had several unique aspects, including being the first flight of space shuttle Atlantis and the second mission solely dedicated to deploying a U.S. Department of Defense payload. Although classified, Bobko expressed satisfaction with the mission’s success and the performance of the Atlantis shuttle.

Throughout his three missions, Bobko spent a total of 16 days, 2 hours, and 3 minutes in space. His contributions to the space program were recognized with numerous awards and honors, including induction into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2011.

After retiring from NASA and the Air Force in 1988, Bobko continued to contribute to the field of human spaceflight. He held positions at Booz Allen & Hamilton Inc., Spacehab, Inc., and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). His dedication and expertise were invaluable in advancing space exploration and research.

Bobko’s passing is a significant loss to the space community. His legacy as a pioneering astronaut and his remarkable achievements will continue to inspire future generations of space explorers.