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Headquarters Expands the Ranks of Scientist-Astronauts

In mid-1966, when the scientist-astronauts had completed their flying training and the third group of pilots had reported aboard, the astronaut corps numbered 44 pilots* and 5 scientists (or 41 and 8, depending on how Cunningham, Schweickart, and Lind were classified) - a ratio that hardly supported the contention that NASA was interested in sending scientists into space. At the Manned Spacecraft Center, Deke Slayton and Bob Gilruth considered that they had quite enough pilots to carry out the programs they could realistically envision and that pilots could be trained to conduct the scientific work that was planned for the lunar landing missions. At Headquarters, however, both Homer Newel! in the Office of Space Science and Applications and George Mueller in the Office of Manned Space Flight thought otherwise. Newell, representing the science community, wanted manned space flight to give more attention to science and less to the engineering and piloting aspects of space flight. Mueller, trying hard to sell an ambitious program of post-Apollo manned missions based largely on scientific research in space, could use more scientists in the astronaut corps to give credibility to his appeals to Congress and to gain political support from scientists outside NASA.

In spite of Houston's reluctance to take on astronaut trainees who would have little expectation of flying in space, Headquarters and the National Academy of Sciences announced on September 26, 1966, that applications would be accepted for a second group of scientists to be trained as astronauts. Selection would be made in about six months.52 By the time they came aboard, however, post-Apollo manned space flight programs were in a precarious position and the future looked much less bright [see Chapter 7]. The chances seemed good that any scientist who went to the moon would be one of the first five already in the program.

* Three astronaut trainees had been killed in flying accidents in the previous two years. Ted Freeman's T-38 hit a goose near MSC on Oct. 31, 1964, causing both engines to flame out; he ejected but was too low for his parachute to open. Elliott See and Charles Bassett, prime crew for Gemini IX, crashed on Feb. 28, 1966, after missing a landing approach at St. Louis Municipal Airport under marginal weather conditions.

52. "Scientists Invited to Become Astronauts, Do Research in Space," NASA Release 66-255, Sept. 26, 1966.

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