Space | 26. August 2014 | posted by Reinhold Ewald

German astronauts lose a friend and colleague

Die Crew der D1%2dMission
Credit: NASA
The crew of the D1 Mission (back row, from left to right): Pilot Steven R. Nagel, Mission Specialist Guion S. Bluford, Jr., Payload Specialists Ernst Messerschmid and Wubbo J. Ockels; (front row, from left to right): Payload Specialist Reinhard Furrer, Mission Specialists Bonnie J. Dunbar and James F. Buchli and Commander Henry W. Hartsfield, Jr.

"Steve Nagel was also of particular importance for Germany, since he held a leadership position on both the D1 Mission and the D2 Mission (D1: Pilot, D2: Commander) and made a major contribution to the success of the two Spacelab missions. We are indebted to him and will honour his memory," explains Johann-Dietrich Wörner, Chairman of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Executive Board.##markend##

Steven R. Nagel, Pilot of the German D1-Mission in 1985 and then Commander of the D2 mission in 1993, died after losing his fight against an unconquerable disease.

Credit: NASA
Astronaut Steven R. Nagel.

Steve's friendship and collegiality spans two generations of German astronauts. When, in 1985, he was launched into space for the second time, the Spacelab in the Shuttle payload bay was laden with a record number of experiments. There was also the record number of eight crew members on board, who supervised the experiments in three shifts; also, for the first time, the responsibility for experiment execution lay with the DFVLR control centre in Oberpfaffenhofen – today DLR's GSOC – and not with NASA. Steve also mastered these specifics with flying colours, just as he had during his earlier trips to the training centre.

Ernst Messerschmid, one of the two German payload specialists on board, paid tribute to his personality and working with him in a letter to Steve’s wife, astronaut Linda Godwin: "We were fortunate to have had Steve with us as Pilot for the D1 mission and Commander of the D2 mission. He was warm, always helpful in every situation, a model for international cooperation (at that time still very unusual) – particularly with regard to the German-US partnership. His engaging manner and smile created an atmosphere in which everyone felt comfortable and welcome. In the land of his ancestors he made many friends who now miss him."

With Steve, following after Reinhard Furrer (1995), Wubbo Ockels and Henry W. Hartsfield (both 2014) , the D1 crew has now lost the fourth member of this crew – all were pioneers in many ways.

Credit: NASA
The crew of the German D2 mission: Hans Schlegel, Ulrich Walter, Steven Nagel, Terence Henricks, Jerry Ross, Charles Precourt and Bernard Harris.

When I think of Steve, I remember his light-handed leadership during the D2 Mission in April 1993, his second as Commander. Ulrich Walter and Hans Schlegel were only able to complete the experimental programme, which had once again increased to a record size, aboard the Spacelab with the understanding and unconditional sympathy of a mission commander who was fit for the task. I can still see Steve with the prize-winning drawing from a student that came from Wessling, near Oberpfaffenhofen, in his hand as he congratulated her from the narrow shuttle flight deck. A similarly cordial personal encounter then followed back on Earth during the crew tour, which of course visited the Oberpfaffenhofen site. What an experience for the young lady!

Last year, Steve was eager to attend the ASE Astronaut Congress in Cologne with his wife but, due to his incipient illness, he had to cancel at the last moment. His many friends in Germany were saddened that they could not accompany him once more through Germany on this occasion.

German aerospace and German astronauts truly owe him a lot – a man who, at a time when the ISS wasn't even on the horizon, already thought of space flight as being international.

In remembrance
Reinhold Ewald, Ernst Messerschmid, Hans Schlegel, Ulrich Walter, Hans Ulrich Steimle and Hauke Dodeck.


About the author

Reinhold Ewald studied physics at the University of Cologne. He completed his studies in 1983 and received his doctorate in 1986. During his work as a research associate at the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft; DFG) from 1983 to 1987, Ewald already took a first step towards the stars. to authorpage