Henry "Hank" Warren Hartsfield Jr. , a former NASA astronaut and veteran of three space shuttle missions, died peacefully, surrounded by his wife, Frances, and family, on July 17, 2014. He was 80. Hartsfield was born on Nov. 21, 1933 in Birmingham, Alabama. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physics at Auburn University in 1954 and later performed graduate work in physics and astronautics at the Air Force Institute of Technology and Duke University. He received his Master of Science degree in engineering science from the University of Tennessee in 1971. Hartsfield joined the Air Force in 1955 and graduated from the test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base in California, where he served as an instructor when he was recruited as an astronaut trainee for the Manned Orbital Laboratory. The project would have seen Hartsfield fly to space on board a Gemini spacecraft to work on a reconnaissance platform had it not been canceled in 1969.
With the end of the MOL program, Hartsfield transferred to NASA's astronaut corps. He became a NASA astronaut in September 1969, just two months after the first moon landing. Before his own three space shuttle flights, Hartsfield served on the support crews for the fifth moon landing, Apollo 16 in April 1972, and for all three missions to the United States' first space station, Skylab, between May 1973 and February 1974. He retired from the Air Force in 1977 Hartsfield made his first spaceflight, serving as the pilot on space shuttle Columbia's STS-4 mission, the fourth and final test flight of the winged orbiter program. Launching on Columbia on June 27, 1982, Hartsfield and commander Thomas "Ken" Mattingly circled the Earth 112 times while performing experiments and operating a pair of classified missile launch-detection systems. Returning to Earth a week later on Independence Day, the STS-4 crew was greeted by then-President and First Lady Ronald and Nancy Reagan at Edwards Air Force Base. The STS-4 mission was the last to be flown before NASA declared the space shuttle operational.
Hartsfield's second shuttle mission assignment came two years later as the commander of Discovery's first flight. During the mission, Hartsfield and his crewmates gained a nickname, the "Icebusters," after using the shuttle robotic arm to successfully knock off a hazardous ice buildup on the outside of the orbiter.
Hartsfield returned to orbit for his third and final flight as commander of Challenger's STS-61A mission in October 1985. With STS-61A's landing, Hartsfield had logged 20 days, 2 hours and 50 minutes in space, having circled the Earth 321 times.
He served as the deputy chief of the astronaut office and the deputy director of flight crew operations at Johnson Space Center in Houston before holding management positions at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. and at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Before leaving NASA in 1998 to become an executive at the Raytheon Corp., Hartsfield helped set the ground work for the International Space Station, serving as the deputy manager of the space station projects office, among other positions related to the orbiting laboratory. He retired from Raytheon in 2005.
Awarded Air Force and NASA medals and the recipient of the 1973 Gen. Thomas D. White Space Trophy, Hartsfield was inducted into the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame in 1983 and U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2006. Hartsfield was bestowed an honorary doctor of science degree from his alma mater, Auburn University, in 1986 and the 2007 Auburn COSAM (College of Science and Mathematics) Alumnus award.
Hartsfield is survived by his wife Fran, daughter Judy Hartsfield Gedies and grandsons Robert Hartsfield Gedies and Michael Warren Gedies, brother Earl Hartsfield and numerous family members and friends. He was preceded in death by his parents and his daughter Keely, who worked as a contractor to the Space Shuttle Program and died in March 2014.
There will be a visitation at Crowder Funeral Home in Clear Lake on Friday, July 25th from 6-8:00 p.m. A church service will follow on Saturday, July 26th at Clear Lake United Methodist Church at 11:00 a.m.
James Crowder Funeral Home
111 East Medical Center Boulevard Webster, TX 77598
Published in Houston Chronicle from July 20 to July 23, 2014