Paul Weitz dead: Nasa astronaut who commanded first space shuttle challenger flight dies age 85

Astronaut who piloted Skylab in the early 1970s died at his retirement home in Arizona

Maya Oppenheim
Tuesday 24 October 2017 14:10 BST
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Weitz, who flew into space twice in the duration of his career, was one of 19 astronauts selected by Nasa in April 1966
Weitz, who flew into space twice in the duration of his career, was one of 19 astronauts selected by Nasa in April 1966 (Getty)

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Paul Weitz, the Nasa astronaut who commanded the first flight of the space shuttle Challenger, has died at the age of 85.

The retired astronaut, who piloted Skylab in the early 1970s, died at his retirement home in Flagstaff, Arizona on Monday.

No cause of Weitz' death has yet been given.

Weitz, who flew into space twice in the duration of his career, was one of 19 astronauts selected by Nasa in April 1966.

He was the pilot of the crew of the Skylab 2 - the first ever manned Skylab mission - which launched on 25 May 1973 and embarked on a 28-day mission.

In 1938, Weitz piloted the first flight of the shuttle Challenger. Almost three years later, Challenger was demolished and seven crew members were killed during a later launch.

Born in Pensylvannia, Weitz gained a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Pennsylvania State University in 1954. He then went on to join the Navy where he served on a destroyer before being selected for flight training and then becoming a Naval Aviator. He served in a number of naval squadrons, including service in Vietnam, before joining the Astronaut Corps.

"Paul Weitz's name will always be synonymous with the space shuttle Challenger. But he also will be remembered for defying the laws of gravity - and age," said Curtis Brown, board chairman of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation and an astronaut and veteran of six space flights.

"Before it became commonplace to come out of retirement, Paul was a pioneer. He proved 51 was just a number."

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