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In Memoriam: Astronaut William “Bill” Lenoir

William Lenoir, an astronaut who flew aboard the first space shuttle mission to deploy commercial satellites, died August 26 from head injuries sustained during a bicycle accident.


—Image courtesy NASA

Born March 14, 1939, in Miami, Florida, Lenoir earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ultimately graduating with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1965. He then taught at MIT, where he became involved in research there that led to development of the Skylab space station.

NASA selected Lenoir as a scientist-astronaut in 1967. He was a backup crew member for missions to Skylab, and he was involved in development of the space shuttle program.

After 15 years with NASA, Lenoir flew to space for the first time on the space shuttle Columbia during the STS-5 mission in November 1982.

Although STS-5 was the fifth shuttle mission, it is considered the program’s first operational flight, because the first four missions primarily involved research and development activities to test Columbia for spaceworthiness.

During their five-day flight, Lenoir and his crewmates successfully put two communications satellites into orbit.


The four astronauts of STS-5, aka the Ace Moving Co.

—Image courtesy NASA

The crew also carried a German-sponsored microgravity experiment into space aboard Columbia and conducted three student-designed experiments.

Lenoir was slated for another “first” during the mission—the first spacewalk from a shuttle, along with crewmate Joseph Allen—but the walk was canceled due to illness followed by spacesuit malfunctions.

[Ed White was the first U.S. astronaut to conduct a spacewalk, floating outside the Gemini 4 capsule for 23 minutes in June 1965. Donald H. Peterson and Story Musgrave became the first people to spacewalk from a shuttle in 1983 during STS-6, the first Challenger mission.]

In line with NASA tradition, family and friends of the STS-5 astronauts were asked to select wakeup music, one song for every day of the mission.

The five tracks played during STS-5 were “76 Trombones” from The Music Man; “Cotton-eyed Joe;” the Marine’s Hymn, aka “The Halls of Montezuma;” “The Stroll;” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver.

After STS-5, Lenoir took over direction and management of mission development for NASA’s Astronaut Office, but he never again flew to space. He left the astronaut corps in 1984 to join aerospace consulting firm Booz, Allen & Hamilton in the Washington, D.C., area.

Lenoir returned to NASA in 1989 as the Associate Administrator for Space Flight, then went back to Booz-Allen in 1992 to become Vice President of the Applied Systems Division. He retired in 2000.

In addition to receiving the Exceptional Service Medal (1974) and Space Flight Medal (1982) from NASA, Lenoir received the Carleton E. Tucker Award for Teaching Excellence at MIT.