Richard Truly, 86, Dies; Shuttle Astronaut Who Went On to Lead NASA

Richard Truly, a naval aviator and astronaut who flew aboard two early space shuttle missions and, as NASA’s associate administrator, guided the agency’s return to space after the Challenger disaster, died on Feb. 27 at his home in Genesee, Colo. He was 86.

The cause was atypical Parkinson’s disease, according to his wife, Colleen (Hanner) Truly.

Mr. Truly joined NASA in 1969, but he didn’t venture into space for 12 years, when he was the pilot of the shuttle program’s second orbital flight. The success of that flight proved that NASA could safely relaunch the Columbia shuttle, seven months after its maiden flight, and safely return it to earth.

Mr. Truly aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1981. He would command the shuttle Challenger in its third flight in 1983.Credit…NASA

But the mission, which was supposed to last five days, was slashed to two after one of the Columbia’s fuel cells failed. (That mission was separate from the Columbia disaster in 2003, which was well after Mr. Truly left NASA, that killed a seven-person crew.)

In 1983, Mr. Truly, who was a captain at the time, commanded the Challenger during its third flight, the eighth overall in the shuttle program. It took off at night and landed in darkness — a first for the program. The flight also marked a personal distinction: Captain Truly was the first American grandfather in space.

Soon after, he retired from NASA to become the first commander of the Naval Space Command, which consolidated the Navy’s operations in space communications, navigation and surveillance.

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