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Skylab astronaut Paul Weitz dies at age 85

NASA astronaut Paul Weitz (S71-51307; Sept. 21, 1971). Photo Credit: NASA

Official NASA photo of astronaut Paul Weitz (S71-51307; Sept. 21, 1971). (Click for full view) Photo Credit: NASA

Former NASA astronaut Paul J. Weitz died on October 23, 2017, in Flagstaff, Arizona, after a battle with Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS), a form of cancer, according to Erie News Now. The two-time space flyer was 85.

Weitz was born on July 25, 1932, in Erie, Pennsylvania. He received a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Pennsylvania State University in 1954 before going on to earn a master’s degree from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, in 1964.

Pete Conrad trims Paul Weitz's hair aboard Skylab 2

Skylab-2 Commander Pete Conrad trims Paul Weitz’s hair in Skylab’s crew quarters. Photo Credit: NASA

According to NASA, Weitz received his commission as an ensign through the Naval ROTC program at Pennsylvania State University and served for one year at sea aboard a destroyer before going to flight training. He was awarded his wings in 1956 and logged more than 7,700 hours of flying time, 6,400 hours in jet aircraft.

In April 1966, Weitz was one of 19 astronauts selected by NASA. He would go on to serve as the pilot for the first crewed mission to the first U.S. space station: Skylab.

The Skylab-2 mission, as it was numbered, also included Commander Pete Conrad and Science Pilot Joseph Kerwin. Their mission was to fly to Skylab, which was launched just weeks before, and spend nearly a month at the outpost.

However, Skylab was damaged when it was launched. One of two solar arrays ripped off and tore off a thermal and micrometeorite shield, and the other array did not deploy properly. This required the Skylab-2 mission to repair the outpost before it could be used.

In all, Weitz and the Skylab-2 crew spent 28 days aboard the space station and completed nearly 400 hours of science experiments. During his stay, Weitz also performed a 1 hour, 36-minute spacewalk to retrieve film from the outpost’s exterior telescope.

About 10 years later, Weitz went on to command the STS-6 Space Shuttle mission, the maiden flight of Challenger. That mission lasted just over 5 days and saw the deployment of NASA’s first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, TDRS-1.

In total, Weitz logged some 33 days orbiting Earth. He retired in 1994 and was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1997.



Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

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