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William E. Thornton | by alertfive
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William E. Thornton

In October 2012 William E. Thornton donated items to the North Carolina Museum of History. He is shown in this photo with the flightsuit he wore on STS-51-B/Challenger, the Spacelab 3 flight.


Thornton, a native of Faison, received a bachelor’s degree in physics and a doctorate in medicine from UNC-Chapel Hill. He was selected as a scientist-astronaut by NASA in August 1967.


A veteran of two space flights, Thornton served as a mission specialist on STS-8/Challenger in 1983 and on STS-51-B in 1985. He has logged more than 313 hours in space.


“Growing up in North Carolina, I did not see my first museum until I was 11 years old,” said Thornton, who currently resides in Texas. “Several things I learned on that first visit were important to my work in space. It is a special pleasure to see this museum and the outstanding way the exhibits are presented, and it is a privilege to have my flight suit and other objects in it.”


Originally, STS-8 had been scheduled to carry an oceanographer on board, perhaps either Robert E. Stevenson or Paul D. Scully-Power, marking the first flight of a payload specialist ahead of STS-9/Spacelab 1.


But occurrences of space sickness on the first five Shuttle flights caused NASA to assign physicians to study that on STS-7 and 8.


(Norman E. Thagard was the physician assigned to STS-7. Stevenson was assigned to STS-41-G but withdrew in favor of Scully-Power. After being penciled in for different crews, Stevenson was assigned to STS-61-K, but the Challenger accident meant Stevenson lost his seat for good.)


Thornton was one of 11 scientist-astronauts selected in 1967, when NASA expected to make an extensive series of Apollo flights. He "flew" on the Skylab simulation SMEAT as well as on the Spacelab simulation SMD-III.


In 1977 he applied as a candidate payload specialist for Spacelab 1 but was not selected.


Following Spacelab 3, Thornton remained an active astronaut but his age made it unlikely he would fly again. He retired from NASA in 1994.


I was happy to find this photo to get signed by Thornton. High-resolution photos of early shuttle astronauts are hard to come by on the Internet.

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Taken on June 20, 2013