Space

William Thornton, the astronaut who developed the shuttle treadmill, passes at the age of 91

Summary

Former NASA space explorer William “Bill” Thornton, who utilized his technologies to calculate and tackle microgravity ill-effects while being on board two spacecraft flights, passed away at the age of91, January 14, 2021. The NASA agency announced the January 11 death […]

Former NASA space explorer William “Bill” Thornton, who utilized his technologies to calculate and tackle microgravity ill-effects while being on board two spacecraft flights, passed away at the age of91, January 14, 2021. The NASA agency announced the January 11 death of Thornton on Thursday (January 14). “NASA is devastated to learn of the demise of retired physician and astronaut, Dr. William Thornton, who passed away last week at his residence in Boerne, Texas,” the organization said. Thornton, as well as his “XS-11” classmates, chosen by NASA agency with his second party of scientist-astronauts in the year 1967, were told from the outset that they’d never travel into space any time soon, thus the “excess” in their nickname.

As it worked out, on August 30, 1983, it did take Thornton 16 years to fly one of the first of his two space shuttle missions. Alongside his four STS-8 crewmates, Thornton was the first shuttle space explorers to deploy and arrive at night as a flight specialist onboard the space shuttle Challenger. The late inclusion to the flight, the primary goal of Thornton would be to observe the vulnerability of the crew to space adaptation sickness, a disease that affects the vestibular program as the human body adjusts to the atmosphere of microgravity. “We attached Bill Thornton to crew around four to five months into preparation. NASA had noticed that many astronauts were recovering from dealing with space adaptation syndrome (SAS) or space sickness. Hence, they intended to discover this problem,” mission expert Guion “Guy” Bluford stated in the NASA oral history interview that was conducted in 2004.

“Bill raised a sense of different devices with him to examine the physiological changes linked with SAS. We all engaged in a few of Bill’s studies,” stated Bluford, who became the first African American to venture into space. Thornton has partnered with a student program that effectively examined whether it was possible to apply biofeedback training obtained on Earth in space. On September 5, 1983, the 6-day flight STS-8, which also launched a weather and communications satellite for India, brought over 260,000 stamped envelopes to be eventually sold to the collectors.

On his second spaceflight, on April 29, 1985, Thornton also initiated a week-long flight onboard the Challenger as an STS-51B mission specialist. In the Spacelab unit mounted in the shuttle’s payload bay, Thornton, together with his six crewmates, broke into two groups to work day and night on over a dozen experiments. In his 2005 oral history of NASA, mission expert Don Lind stated: “We were able to get the first laboratory animals in the space and Bill Thornton worried about them [during our] turn.”  “We had two adorable little squirrel monkeys as well as 24 laboratory rats that were less than cute.”

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