Thronateeska, Symphony to host events with astronaut

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- Area residents will get a rare opportunity to question a former U.S. astronaut thanks to a joint endeavor by the Albany Symphony Orchestra and Thronateeska Heritage Museum.

Astronaut Norm Thagard will be in Albany on Feb. 19 and will be featured at events hosted by both entities, Thronateeska Director Tommy Gregors said.

Thagard will be the focus of a Q-and-A session following a planetary program at Thronateeska's Wetherbee Planetarium at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. on the 19th.

That night, Thagard will assist Claire Fox Hilliard and the Albany Symphony with a program focused on Gustav Holst's "The Planets."

"This is definitely a rare opportunity for the city to have someone who not only flew into space as a part of the shuttle program but is also historic, having been the first American invited aboard a Russian space craft," Gregors said.

Thagard's intellectual and military credentials are impressive. He received bachelor and master of science degrees in engineering science in 1965 and 1966, respectively, from Florida State University.

He received a doctor of medicine degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in 1977.

Thagard has been awarded 11 Air Medals, the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat "V", the Marine Corps "E" Award, the Vietnam Service Medal and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm.

According to his bio with NASA, he entered active duty with the United States Marine Corps Reserve in September 1966. He achieved the rank of captain in 1967, was designated a naval aviator in 1968, and was subsequently assigned to duty flying F-4s with VMFA-333 at Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort, S.C.

Thagard flew 163 combat missions in Vietnam while assigned to VMFA-115 from January 1969 to 1970. He returned to the United States and an assignment as aviation weapons division officer with

VMFA-251 at Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort.

Thagard resumed his academic studies in 1971, pursuing additional studies in electrical engineering and a degree in medicine. Prior to coming to NASA, he was interning in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. He is a licensed physician.

As a pilot, Thagard has logged more than 2,200 hours flying time -- the majority in jet aircraft. He first flew into space aboard the second flight of the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. In 1985, Thagard accompanied Spacelab-2 into space.

Months later, in 1986, Challenger exploded over the Atlantic Ocean in one of the worst tragedies to befall the U.S. space program. Following the Challenger disaster, Thagard wouldn't again see time in space until 1989 when he and the rest of the crew for STS-30 launched the first exploratory drone from a space shuttle -- Magellan Venus.

In March 1995, Thagard undertook his final mission for NASA as U.S. member of the Russian crew of MIR-18. When he landed at Kennedy Space Center on the Space Shuttle Atlantis to finish the mission, he had logged 140 days in space.