April 20, 2019

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Owen Garriott, an Early Scientist-Astronaut, Is Dead at 88

Owen Garriott, an Early Scientist-Astronaut, Is Dead at 88
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Owen K. Garriott, one of the original scientists selected to explore the cosmos firsthand and the first astronaut to operate an interstellar ham radio station, died on Monday at his home in Huntsville, Ala. He was 88.

His death was confirmed by his son Richard.

Dr. Garriott flew into space twice. In 1973 he was the science pilot of Skylab 3, the record-breaking 59-day mission — more than double the duration of any previous flight — to Skylab, the first United States space station.

He logged nearly 14 hours outside Skylab in three spacewalks, during which physiological and biomedical metrics were monitored to determine the body’s response to long periods spent in reduced gravity.

“We learned the importance of exercise,” Dr. Garriott said. “If you have the appropriate amount of exercise, namely one to two hours a day, then you’re going to come back in essentially as good a condition as when you left.”

At one point, controllers in Houston were flabbergasted to hear a woman’s voice reporting to mission control from Skylab: “The boys haven’t had a home-cooked meal in so long, I thought I’d bring one up.” Dr. Garriott later revealed that the voice was his wife’s, which he had recorded from their home during a private radio transmission the night before.

He returned to space in 1983 on the 10-day flight of the shuttle Columbia, which carried the European Space Agency’s Spacelab 1 module, on which a multinational team of scientists conducted research.

On that mission, Dr. Garriott operated the first amateur radio station from space. He used his station’s call sign, W5LFL, to connect with about 250 ham operators, including his mother in Enid, Okla.; Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona; and King Hussein of Jordan.

Owen Kay Garriott was born on Nov. 22, 1930, in Enid to Owen Garriott, a wholesale oil and gas distributor, and Mary Catherine (Mellick) Garriott. (His middle name was derived from his mother’s.)

He attributed his interest in astronomy to a teacher he had in third grade.

“One of the things that she had in her class was an orrery, which is a word that I had no idea what it meant when I was in third grade, but it’s a little device that has a whole planetary system in it,” Dr. Garriott recalled in an interview with the Johnson Space Center in 2000.

“You turn a little crank, by hand in those days, and they all rotate,” he said. “I think, ‘Gee whiz, so that’s really what the solar system looks like. Fascinating.’ ”

His father invited Owen to join him in taking adult radio and Morse code classes. By the time he was 15, he was a licensed amateur radio operator.

After graduating with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Oklahoma in 1953, Dr. Garriott served as an electronics officer on Navy destroyers. He earned a master’s in 1957 and his doctorate in 1960 from Stanford University, both in electrical engineering.

In 1965, while teaching at Stanford, Dr. Garriott applied to NASA on a whim — “the same way one would apply for any other government position,” he later said. He was among the first six candidates accepted as scientist-astronauts. He underwent a year of Air Force training and qualified as a jet pilot.

His marriage to Helen Walker in 1952 ended in divorce. In addition to his son Richard, his survivors include three other children from that marriage, Randall, Robert and Linda Garriott; his wife, Evelyn (Long) Garriott; three stepchildren, Cindy Burcham, Bill Eyestone and Sandra Brooks; 12 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

In 2008, Richard Garriott, a successful video game inventor, became the sixth space tourist and the first second-generation American to go into space. After undergoing training in Russia, he joined a Russian flight commander and an American flight engineer aboard Soyuz TMA-13 and arrived at the International Space Station two days later. He himself had been rejected as an astronaut because of poor eyesight.

At NASA, Dr. Garriott served in the mid-1970s as director of science and applications at the Johnson Space Center, where he was responsible for research in the physical sciences. He was the space station project scientist before he retired from NASA in 1986.

He was later vice president for space engineering at Teledyne Brown Engineering, which worked on Spacelab projects at the Marshall Space Flight Center and on the development of the laboratory for the International Space Station.

Dr. Garriott wrote “Introduction to Ionospheric Physics” (1969) with Henry Rishbeth and, with David Hitt and his fellow astronaut Joseph Kerwin, “Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story” (2008).

Late in life, Dr. Garriott taught at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and conducted research in extreme environments, ranging from Antarctica to deep-sea thermal vents. It capped a career in which he said he never got bored, even when he was in the void of outer space.

“Anyone who runs out of something to do must have had a failure in their imagination block up there somewhere,” he said. “Because if there’s nothing else, you can look out the window, which would absolutely fascinate me for weeks on end.”



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