Aviation Hall to honor new inductees Saturday night

Event at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is aviation’s “Oscar Night.”

Robert Crippen has two space shuttle crew mates enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Now, Crippen will join the list of more than 200 aerospace pioneers along with three others who will be inducted Saturday in a ceremony at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

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“I have a lot of friends who were already in (the hall) and heroes of mine, so I’m thrilled,” the 79-year-old retired NASA astronaut said in a telephone interview Thursday from his Florida home.

Along with Crippen, NAHF will enshrine the late Col. George “Bud “Day, a Vietnam POW and Medal of Honor recipient; Christopher Kraft, a NASA manned space program pioneer and the first flight director at the space agency; and Tom Poberezny, who led the Experimental Aircraft Association during a surge in growth and started the popular Young Eagles flights to inspire youth.

The gathering of aerospace luminaries is the “Oscars night in aviation,” said Ron Kaplan, enshrinement director.

Poberezny and his late father, Paul, who founded the Experimental Aircraft Association, will become the first father-son duo inducted into the Hall, Kaplan said. The elder Poberezny was inducted in 1999.

“It’s a true honor,” Tom Poberezny said in an interview. “As my wife refers to it, it’s the mother of all awards.”

From orbit to enshrinement

For Crippen, the journey into the hall follows the induction of fellow astronaut John Young, who flew with Crippen on the first space shuttle mission in 1981, and the first American woman in space, the late Sally Ride, who Crippen flew with into space in 1983.

The naval aviator joined the NASA astronaut corps in 1969, but he did not fly into space until 1981. He was one of a handful of astronauts chosen for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory military space program that never launched.

“I was 28 years old when I was selected for that and I was 43 when I flew (on the first shuttle mission) so sometimes it pays to be tenacious,” he said.

In the 1970s, he worked behind the scenes at NASA to support the Skylab manned space station, and helped design astronaut requirements for the space shuttle. He later was the director of shuttle operations after the Challenger disaster. The space plane fleet was retired in 2011.

“We do want to get out to the moon and to Mars and the space shuttle was not the vehicle for doing that and of course we did lose two (shuttles) tragically,” he said. “But if I had my way I wouldn’t have retired it until we had a way to get our astronauts into space from the United States another way.”

Experimental fliers

As leader at EAA, Poberezny grew the size and scope of the annual AirVenture airshow in Oshkosh, Wis., by “focusing on what people want rather than giving them what we think they want” and “doing the unexpected.”

The famous airshow reunited the Apollo 11 astronauts to mark the 25th anniversary of the moon landing, and brought in notable aviation pioneers such as Burt Rutan, builder of Spaceship One.

“Our goal wasn’t to be the largest, it was to be the best,” Poberezny said.

Along with growing the size of the air show, EAA added an aviation center during his tenure, he said.

The Young Eagles flight program, which takes youth on flights to draw interest in aviation, has given more than two million airplane rides.

“Many of the kids that we gave rides to their whole world was two dimensional, and now they were seeing three dimensional,” he said. “They saw the world below them and the world above them.”

Day, Kraft honored

Day, a Medal of Honor recipient and lawyer who fought to expand veterans benefits, died in 2013. As a forward air controller flying a F-100 fighter jet, he was shot down over Vietnam in 1967 and imprisoned for more than five years. He escaped his captors after several days, but was recaptured and tortured, refusing to divulge sensitive information about U.S. forces to North Vietnamese interrogators, biographical information said.

“As an aviator to be put in that situation and defy his captors and lead others thus saving many other lives is certainly deserving of this honor,” Kaplan said.

Day, a Sioux City, Iowa native, flew fighter jets in Korea and was a Marine in the South Pacific in World War II.

Mission Control at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas is named after Kraft, the place he once led. He had key roles to send astronauts into space from the original Mercury launches through the Apollo-Soyuz missions between American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts.

Former Apollo astronaut Frank Borman will accept the award for the Virginia native who lives in Texas and was unable to attend the ceremony, Kaplan said.

Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, will receive the Neil Armstrong Outstanding Achievement Award. Former NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz, enshrined last year, will accept the award for Cernan who was unable to attend, Kaplan said.

Kenneth W. Phelps, of Maxwell High School of Technology in Lawrenceville, Ga., will receive the A. Scott Crossfield Educator of the Year award.

Former Good Morning America host David Hartman was set to reprise his role as master of ceremonies Saturday.

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