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4. Fifty-six Days in a Can To start with, I was out in California in Huntington Beach. And I got this call, and it was the good Robert Crippen who was calling. He said, “We had a drawing, and your name was drawn to be a crewmember on :)=.” And I said, “What the hell is :)=?” Bo Bobko :)=, the Skylab Medical Experiment Altitude Test, was a full-length simulation of a Skylab mission. The crew selected for the test would spend fifty -six days in a spacecraft mock-up without the benefits of actually being in space. Selection for the mission might seem a dubious honor, but for the commander of the chosen crew, things had been much, much worse. “June }¤, }u“u, was probably one of the low points in my life,” remembered astronaut Bob Crippen. On that date the future pilot of the first Space Shuttle flight learned that the project to which he had dedicated the past three years of his life was over. The U.S. Air Force had canceled its Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, leaving Crippen and his fellow members of the Air Force’s astronaut corps uncertain as to what the future held. Beginning almost four years earlier, a total of seventeen astronauts had been selected by the Air Force from the ranks of military pilots. During that time they had completed training on the *:-developed Gemini spacecraft, which was to have been used in the Air Force program. They had also undergone training on the tasks they were to perform on the space-based laboratory. At the time the program was canceled, the members of the corps were excited about the prospect of spaceflight, but now the Air Force would no longer have need for astronauts. The nation’s civilian space program, on the other hand, still had an astronaut corps, but that group had become overly u“• |• #=Hn:#E•H:•#*••* crowded as well. The last class of astronauts *: had selected, a second group of scientist astronauts brought into the corps two years earlier in }u“, had dubbed themselves the “Excess Eleven” (or, in test-pilot terminology, E:-}}) when they realized just how low their odds were of being assigned to a spaceflight anytime in the near future. Crippen said that after the program was canceled, “We sat around, and it seems like for a month afterward, we’d go to the bar every night at probably about o’clock in the afternoon and have a wake. One day, I remember a crew meeting, and we were trying to figure out what we were going to do, and Bo [Bobko] said, ‘Why don’t we ask *: if they could use any of us?’ And we said, ‘Bo, that’s the dumbest damn idea I ever heard. They’re canceling Apollo flights, and they’ve got more astronauts than they know what to do with.’ “But long story short, somebody asked. In fact, in some of my talks, especially with kids, I always remember Bo asked me that question, which I thought was dumb. It doesn’t hurt to ask, even if you think you know the answer. It really doesn’t.” And, seemingly against the odds, the answer was “Yes.” The request for the )3' astronauts to be accepted into *:’s astronaut corps made its way to Office of Manned Space Flight associate administrator George Mueller, who was near the end of his tenure with the agency. The cancellation of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory marked the end of a period during which Congress had essentially forced *: and the Air Force to compete with each other. Now *: was beginning to make plans for its next crewed spacecraft , the Space Shuttle. Mueller hoped to enlist the Air Force as an ally as it lobbied to make the Space Shuttle a reality. Although *: already had more astronauts than it needed, Mueller believed it would be in the agency ’s best interest to try to curry favor with the Air Force by accepting its erstwhile future spacemen into the *: corps. Director of Flight Crew Operations Deke Slayton, however, was unwilling to accept the entire group of Air Force astronauts into his already crowded corps. He invoked *:’s requirement at the time that only candidates under the age of thirty-six be accepted, cutting the applicant field roughly in half. Seven )3' astronauts were accepted into *:’s corps as the seventh group of astronauts on }k August }u“u: Maj. Karol “Bo” Bobko, Lt...


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