Posted with permission,
Shipmate, 2002.

From the Yard to the...MOON?
Friends in High Places

By Sean Cate ’79

Have any Naval Academy classmates flown in space together on the same mission?


The  first classmates in space, Thomas Stafford and James Lovell ’52, shake hands after Gemini 6 and 7 flights. Also pictured are Walter Schirra and Frank Borman

This was the question I posed back in September when I was alerted by my classmate, Kirk Michealson, that two members of the Class of 1979 were slated to blast into space onboard the space shuttle Endeavour for a December 2001 mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

From the first two-man Gemini flights in the early 1960s, through the Apollo moon missions, and into the Shuttle era, the United States has flown well over 100 multi-personnel space flights. I knew that Naval Academy graduates had flown on the same missions before, and I imagined that it was likely that classmates had flown together, but I wanted to know for sure. I embarked on my own "space mission" to find out.

Space Mission

Text Box:  
Dan Bursch and Dom Gorie pose in front of Endeavor prior to launch

My research started with a thorough scan of NASA web sites. Having always been fascinated by space flight, I was immediately hooked by the rich history of humankind’s exploits in space. To answer my question, though, I found on one NASA web site the biography of each astronaut NASA has selected since the original Mercury 7 ( Each biography provides the astronaut’s background and experience, both before astronaut selection and with NASA. From the educational backgrounds, I found the Naval Academy graduates and from their spaceflight experience, I could list the missions they had flown. I then compared classmates to flights and found my answer.

Dominic L. Gorie and Daniel W. Bursch, the two ’79er classmates assigned to the Endeavour mission, arrived in Annapolis with me and about 1,400 other young men from all over the United States and beyond in July 1975. Like those who had gone before us, and those who came after, four years by the Severn transformed us into "professional officers in the naval service." Of the approximately 950 survivors from the Class of 1979 to throw our hats in the air on a sunny day at the end of May 1979, three classmates were eventually selected by NASA to undergo rigorous astronaut training. Michael J. Foreman ’79, a fourth classmate, also has been selected as an astronaut, but has not yet been assigned to a flight.

The flight Dom and Dan embarked upon on 5 December 2001 was dryly named "STS-108." STS-108 was the 12th shuttle flight to the International Space Station (ISS) and the first also to be designated as a "Utilization Flight." The Utilization Flight (UF) name marked the beginning of the routine delivery of a large complement of scientific experiments to the ISS. While there will still be "Assembly Flights" to the ISS, UF-1 opened another chapter of NASA’s scientific missions in space.


International  Space Station, as seen from Endeavour, passes over the Florida coast

Dom Gorie, a veteran pilot of two previous shuttle flights, was assigned as mission commander of STS-108. The shuttle crew consisted of pilot Lieutenant Commander Mark E. Kelly, USMMA ’86, and mission specialists Dr. Linda M. Godwin and Daniel M. Tani.

The primary purpose of UF-1 was to deliver the Expedition Four crew—Russian Commander Yury Onufrienko, and American flight engineers Bursch and Carl Walz. They will orbit Earth until another shuttle flight delivers Expedition Five and picks up Expedition Four in May 2002.

While docked to the space station, the shuttle crew conducted one space walk and attached the Italian-built Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module to the station and unloaded about three tons of supplies and equipment, including an array of science experiments.

The shuttle crew also deployed the Student-Tracked Atmospheric Research Satellite for Heuristic International Networking Experiment, also called STARSHINE 2. This satellite, essentially a big disco ball, was put together with the help of young children who polished the hundreds of mirrors on the ball’s surface. The students are now tracking it visually during twilight hours and, in this way, are becoming the next generation of space pioneers.

The ISS Expedition Three crew—Commander Frank Culbertson ’71, pilot Vladimir Dezhurov, and flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin—took the return trip home to Earth on the shuttle.

This shuttle flight, the first post-11 September, carried momentos of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, including 6,000 American flags to be given to survivors and victim’s families. This was especially poignant for Dom and Dan as ’79ers since our classmate, Captain Gerry DeConto, was killed at the Pentagon and other classmates lost close relatives in those attacks.


Dan  Bursch looks over Dom Gorie’s shoulder during the flight to the International Space Station

Classmate remembrance also figured into some special flight momentos carried by Dan Bursch. Carrying special, personal items into space has been a long tradition among astronauts. On his first flight, STS-51 in 1993, Dan wore companymate Matt Brower’s Academy ring. Matt died of cancer in 1990. On this flight he is wearing the ring of another companymate, George S. "Steve" Jones who was killed in an automobile accident in 1985. (Ironically, Steve’s ring was purchased by his 22nd Company classmates after it appeared for sale on eBay.) He also is
carrying Gerry "Fish" DeConto’s license plate. When our class first received word of Gerry’s death, Dan immediately offered to carry something of his on the flight.

Academy Astronaut Facts

After I was able to answer my question about classmates in space, I found that I had compiled a lot of information about Academy astronauts. Regrettably for Dom and Dan and Class of 1979 lore and bragging rights, STS-108 was not the first space mission where Naval Academy classmates flew together. That honor belongs to Class of 1971 classmates Robert Cabana and William Shepherd. Shuttle flight STS-41, flown 6-10 October 1990 provided that milestone.

I found another classmate link, though, that I hadn’t expected. Two classmates had flown in space at the same time before Cabana and Shepherd, though not on the same mission. In the early days of manned space flight, during the Gemini missions, astronauts and Naval Academy classmates James Lovell and Thomas Stafford, Class of 1952, became the first Naval Academy classmates to fly in space at the same time. It wasn’t supposed to be, though.

Gemini 6, with Walter M. Schirra Jr. '46 and Stafford, was delayed from launch by a host of technical problems. Originally scheduled to fly in September 1965 and conduct rendezvous maneuvers with an Agena target, the mission was actually launched during the 14-day flight of Gemini 7, carrying Jim Lovell '52 and Frank Borman, USMA '50. Instead of maneuvering with the Agena target, Gemini 6 conducted a close encounter with Gemini 7. Gemini 6 also had the distinction of being the first time two Naval Academy graduates flew together in space, and the only time a multi-manned mission was 100% USNA-crewed.

According to my research, these three Gemini and Shuttle missions remain the only times when two classmates have flown together in space.

The Classes of 1952 and 1971 have the distinction of producing the most astronauts with four each. Edward Givens ’52, though, was killed in an automobile accident before he flew in space. The Classes of 1968, 1979, 1981, and 1984 follow with three each. The current crew assignments for scheduled launches do not include another pair of classmates to fly together. It may be awhile before that happens again.

Why is USNAa good launching pad?

NASA has designated more than 310 American men and women as astronauts. They are graduates of more than 125 colleges and universities, from the well known to the obscure. The United States Naval Academy, as an undergraduate institution, has produced more astronauts by far than any other service academy, college, or university. With 51 graduates on the astronaut list, Navy more than equals the combined total of the Air Force Academy (34 graduates) and the Military Academy at West Point (16 graduates). The nearest civilian colleges are Purdue (14), MIT (9), Colorado (8), and Stanford (7).

What aspects of the Naval Academy experience prepared these graduates to rise to the top and become astronauts? To answer this, I was privileged to speak with six Navy-graduate astronauts.

Each mentioned the discipline that comes with life in Bancroft Hall. Early on in the life of a Plebe, time management skills and the ability to compartmentalize information—knowing what is important and what is more important—are vital tools to both the midshipman, the marine or naval officer, and the astronaut. Brent Jett ’81 said that the work ethic instilled in midshipmen and the ability to think and react under pressure are skills an astronaut must possess.

Academics at the Academy provide certain benefits not necessarily available at a civilian institution. Dom Gorie said that it was "no particular class or major, but the whole rigorous engineering background" that prepared him for the fleet and his astronaut duties. Charlie Hobaugh ’84 sited the small class sizes and the instructors’ availability to provide one-on-one instruction, which enables midshipmen to meet the academic demands of the Naval Academy experience.

Bancroft Hall also gave these astronauts the exposure and experience of living in close quarters with others, including those who lead you or whom you will lead. According to Bob Curbeam ’84, "Interpersonal skills learned at Navy are very important" to an astronaut. "A member of the crew you fly with and lead on one mission could be someone who leads you on a future mission." George Zamka, his classmate, expanded on this by remembering Navy as the place he learned to "team with your peers and develop responsibility for your subordinates."

Wendy Lawrence ’81 became the first of four female graduates of the Naval Academy to become astronauts. Lawrence, the daughter of former Superintendent and Distinguished Graduate Vice Admiral William Lawrence ’51, always wanted to be an astronaut. She may have been the first "second-generation" astronaut had her father, an early astronaut candidate, been selected for the program. Early on, and with her father as a guide, she saw the Naval Academy as the best path to this career. And it was. A veteran of three shuttle flights, including her flight on STS-91 to Mir in June 1998 with a rookie astronaut named Dom Gorie as the pilot, she has realized her goal. "The Naval Academy is the place where your dream can turn into reality," Lawrence said.

The astronauts were also asked their thoughts on why the Naval Academy has produced more astronauts than any other institution. No single aspect of the Academy experience was mentioned in their replies. In fact, a consensus answer was built around the unique skills, experience, and abilities the astronaut boards looked for as criteria for selection.

Charlie Hobaugh spent a semester at the Air Force Academy as an exchange student during his second class year. While there, the Air Force officers who served as instructors told him of their respect for naval aviators. The naval aviator’s career path tends to lead toward greater responsibilities for material and personnel management, in addition to piloting skills, for the junior officer. This contrasts with the other service’s pilots who concentrate more on the aviation aspect of their career during the JO years.

On a more practical note, George Zamka noted that the Naval Academy provides two pipelines into the astronaut selection process: the Navy and the Marine Corps. Wendy Lawrence, as echoed by others, noted that the "shipboard experience has unique similarities to space flight." Naval aviators, who must learn to land an aircraft on a small strip of pitching deck in near-total darkness, come naturally to the challenges of space travel.


TenA—The  combined crews of Endeavour and the ISS. Naval Academy graduates Dan Bursch, Dom Gorie, and Frank Culbertson are in the center

The history of Naval Academy graduates in the space program is remarkable. The following are just some examples of their leadership and the mark they continue to make in the New Frontier:

Alan Shepard ’45 was the first American in space on Mercury flight Freedom 7. As commander of Apollo 14, he also walked on the moon and hit the first (and only) "crater-in-one" moon golf shot.

Dan Bursch’s  view of the Yard

Of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, two were Naval Academy graduates: Shepard and Schirra. A third, L. Gordon Cooper, attended NAPS, but was an alternate for admittance to the Academy and never got in. Cooper later joined the Air Force and graduated from the Air Force Institute of Technology. Colorado, Muskingum, Purdue, and Minnesota graduated the other members of the Mercury 7, respectively, Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, Virgil "Gus" Grissom, and Donald "Deke" Slayton.

Twelve Apollo astronauts have walked on the moon. Three were Naval Academy graduates, more than any other college: Shepard, James Irwin ’51, and Charles Duke ’57. Interestingly, of those 12 men, seven were active or former naval officers, four had Air Force experience (including Irwin and Duke), and one was a civilian with no military experience.

Walter Schirra was the only astronaut to fly in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.

S. David Griggs ’62 performed the first unscheduled spacewalk, or EVA, during shuttle flight STS-51D as he and a crewmate attempted to repair the malfunctioning LEASAT-3 satellite.

Stephen Bowen ’86 is the first submariner to be selected for the astronaut program.

William Shepherd ’71 and classmate Frank Culbertson were the first two American commanders of the ISS. The role of commander rotates between the Americans and the Russians.

Dan Bursch and crewmate Carl Walz conducted a spacewalk on 20 February 2002, the 40th anniversary of John Glenn’s orbital flight. Former Senator Glenn marked the anniversary by phoning the astronauts with congratulations and expressing his envy at their stay in space.

Naval Tradition

Naval tradition is becoming an important aspect of space travel these days. When Endeavour completed docking with the ISS in December, and the main hatch was ready to swing open, Frank Culbertson rang a ship’s bell with the traditional "ding-ding, ding-ding; Endeavour arriving" greeting for Dom Gorie and his shuttle crew. Dom considered the gesture to be a solid link to the rich naval heritage that Academy astronauts have brought to the space program. Honors upon departure were similarly rendered. The custom of rendering honors onboard the ISS began with its first commander, William Shepherd ’71, who also started the Alpha Log, the ISS’s version of the ship’s log. Dan Bursch, and those who follow, will certainly continue this tradition aboard the ISS.

Naval Academy tradition and loyalty to classmates is exemplified by what our astronauts are doing each day. On the scheduled morning of his launch, Dom Gorie took the time to drop me an email to thank the Class of 1979 for their thoughts and prayers for the success of his mission. He said, "It has been great training together with Dan, as well as all the other things we have done together this past year. I am honored to be Dan’s taxi driver for his long-duration space station mission! Our best to you and all of ’79!" Today, as Dan circles high above us, we can truly state that we have friends in high places!

   Sean Cate served as a surface warfare officer on various ships and staffs until taking early retirement in 1995. He resides in Montclair, VA, with his wife, Janet, and children, Stephen (’09?) and Emily (’13?). He is the president of the USNA Class of 1979.

For their contributions to this article, I am indebted to Kacy Kossum of the Johnson Space Center Public Affairs Office and Lucy Lytwynsky of the Astronaut Office. I also want to thank Dom Gorie, Dan Bursch, Wendy Lawrence, Brent Jett, Bob Curbeam, Charlie Hobaugh, and George Zamka for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer my questions about their experiences.

US Naval Academy Astronauts


1945 Shepard, Alan B. Jr. Mercury Freedom 7, Apollo 14
1946 Schirra, Walter M. Jr. Mercury Sigma 7, Gemini 6, Apollo 7
1951 Irwin, James Apollo 15
1952 Eisele, Donn F. Apollo 7
1952 Givens, Edward G.
1952 Lovell, James A. Gemini 7, Gemini 12, Apollo 8, Apollo 13
1952 Stafford, Thomas P. Gemini 6, Gemini 9, Apollo 10, ASTP
1953 Freeman. Theodore C.
1955 Anders, William A Apollo 8
1957 Duke, Charles M. Jr. Apollo 16
1958 McCandless, Bruce II STS-41B, STS-31
1962 Griggs, S. David STS-51D
1964 Springer, Robert C. STS-29, STS-38
1966 Creighton, John O. STS-51G, STS-36, STS-48
1966 Walker, David M. STS-51A, STS-30, STS-53, STS-69
1967 Buchli, James F. STS-51C, STS-61A, STS-29, STS-48
1967 Smith, Michael J. STS-51L (Challenger)
1968 Bolden, Charles F. Jr. STS-61C, STS-31, STS-45, STS-60
1968 Coats, Michael L. STS-41D, STS-53, STS-65, STS-88
1968 O’Connor, Bryan D. STS-61B, STS-40
1969 Lounge, John M. (Mike) STS-51I, STS-26, STS-35
1971 Cabana, Robert D. STS-41, STS-53, STS-65, STS-88
1971 Culbertson, Frank L. Jr. STS-38, STS-51, CDR of ISS-3 (STS-105/STS-108)
1971 Leestma, David C. STS-41G, STS-28, STS-45
1971 Shepherd, William M. STS-27, STS-41, STS-52, CDR of ISS-1
1972 Phillips, John L. STS-100
1973 Oswald, Stephen S. STS-42, STS-56, STS-67
1973 Reightler, Kenneth S. Jr. STS-48, STS-60
1974 Readdy, William F. STS-42, STS-51, STS-79
1975 Thorne, Stephen D.
1977 Linengar, Jerry M. STS-64, Mir (STS-81, STS-84)
1977 Thuot, Pierre J. STS-36, STS-49, STS-62
1978 Bowersox, Kenneth D. STS-50, STS-61, STS-73, STS-82
1979 Bursch, Daniel W. STS-51, STS-68, STS-77, ISS-4 (STS-108)
1979 Foreman, Michael J.
1979 Gorie, Dominic L. P. STS-91, STS-99, STS-108
1980 Edwards, Joe F. Jr. STS-89
1980 Lopez-Alegria, Michael E. STS-73, STS-92
1981 Hire, Kathryn P. (Kay) STS-90
1981 Jett, Brent W. Jr. STS-72, STS-81, STS-97
1981 Lawrence, Wendy B. STS-67, STS-86, STS-91
1983 Loria, Christopher J. (Gus) Assigned STS-113
1983 McCool, William C. Assigned STS-107
1984 Curbeam, Robert L. Jr. STS-85, STS-98
1984 Hobaugh, Charles O. STS-104
1984 Zamka, George D.
1985 Nowak, Lisa M.
1986 Bowen, Stephen G.
1986 Frick, Stephen N. Assigned STS-110
1987 Ham, Kenneth T.
1987 Williams, Sunita L.

Those Who Have Gone Before

Donn F. Eisele ’52 Heart attack in 1987
Theodore C. Freeman ’53 T-38 crash in 1964
Edward G. Givens ’52 Auto accident in 1967
S. David Griggs ’62 Private plane crash in 1989
James Irwin ’51 Heart attack in 1991
Alan B. Shepard Jr. ’45 Cancer in 1998
Michael J. Smith ’67 Challenger explosion in 1986
Stephen D. Thorne ’75 Aircraft accident in 1986
David Mathieson Walker '66