Former Astronaut C. Gordon Fullerton Dies At 76

Former astronaut C. Gordon Fullerton died on Wednesday at the age of 76. His passing was announced by NASA in a statement.

Fullerton flew two space shuttle missions and also enjoyed a long career as a research and test pilot for NASA and the Air Force.

After suffering a stroke in 2009, ABC News reports that the former astronaut was confined to a long-term care facility in Lancaster, California.

Fullerton was an astronaut from 1969 until 1986 and spent 382 hours in space on shuttle missions. He first flew into orbit in March 1982 aboard the shuttle Columbia.

The eight-day test flight was the only shuttle mission to land at backup site White Sands, New Mexico. The shuttle was diverted after rains in the Mojave Desert flooded Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

He then commanded the shuttle Challenger in 1985 when the craft carried the Spacelab module in its cargo bay. The mission conducted a wide range of science experiments.

Fox News notes that, in addition to being an astronaut, C. Gordon Fullerton also logged an impressive 16,000 flight hours in more than 135 types of aircraft. Along with flying fighters and bombers, the pilot also attended the Air Force Research Pilot School and spent time as a test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

When the program in Ohio was canceled in 1969, Fullerton transferred to NASA's astronaut corps at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. It was there he spent time as a member of support crews for NASA's final four Apollo missions.

He also helped command the modified Boeing 747 aircraft that was responsible for carrying NASA's space shuttles on ferry flights from California to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. While he retired from the Air Force in 1988, Fullerton didn't retire from NASA until 2007.

There was no word from NASA on C. Gordon Fullerton's surviving relatives or funeral arrangements.

[Image via NASA/Dryden Jim Ross]