Tazewell County
Photo of the Month

Astronaut Scott AltmanScott D. Altman
Commander, United States Navy
NASA Astronaut

Scott Altman was born in Lincoln, Illinois on August 15, 1959, but grew up in Pekin (Tazewell County) - where his parents, Fred and Sharon Altman, still reside. Scott was interested in aviation even as a small child.  While watching the first grainy images televised from the moon, Scott, then 10, began thinking he would like to become an astronaut some day.

He attended Edison Junior High School. He was a regular on the Pekin High School basketball team until he graduated in 1977. Scott recounts first learning teamwork from Coach Marshal Stoner. He has said, "NASA is all about teamwork. If not for all doing their job, astronauts couldn't get into orbit and be able to do what I did."

After high school, Scott enrolled at the University of Illinois. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering in May 1981. Scott had wanted to fly for the Air Force but was rejected because regulations said he was too tall to sit in an airplane cockpit. So, he tried the Navy and was accepted.

Scott was commissioned an Ensign in the United States Navy following completion of Aviation Reserve Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida, in August 1981. Following training in Florida and Texas, he received his Navy wings of gold in February 1983 and was ordered to Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar (aka "Fightertown") in San Diego, California, to fly the F-14 Tomcat fighter.

After he became a pilot, he applied to be an astronaut - but was rejected. Attached to Fighter Squadron 51, Altman completed two deployments to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.

In 1986, the Navy assigned Scott to work with actor Tom Cruise, who was preparing for a new movie about Naval pilots, to be called Top Gun. So, when the film audience saw Cruise maneuver the F-14 during those stunning flying scenes, they were actually watching Scott Altman.

F14 Tomcat FighterDuring an interview prior to a recent space flight, Scott was asked what it was like to fly the scenes in the movie, and how he got picked for that job. Scott answered, "Well, Top Gun was a real thrill. I still remember that so vividly. The word was going around town that Hollywood was coming to Miramar, where I was stationed, and they were going to do a movie, and we were all kind of excited. My squadron had just gotten back from a seven-and-a-half month cruise about a week-and-a-half before, so our airplanes were at home, we were available, we weren't too highly tasked. And it turned out they picked my squadron to supply the F-14s.

Then the skipper got together and tried to pick four guys that he thought, were mature enough, I guess, to handle, you know, the capability that they were being given in working with the movie, and all the things that were required. And the director wanted to have a small cadre of people that he could work with so you develop an understanding of what the movie folks want versus what we can do and how to try and balance those two requirements.

The flying was incredible. You know, most Navy pilots don't get to buzz the tower like in the movie - if you did you could just peel your wings off and, throw 'em at the door because you probably wouldn't be flying anymore - but, since it was Hollywood, you know, they wanted the scene. I had to buzz the tower. And, of course, they wanted nine different takes - so we did it nine times!"

In August 1987, he was selected for the Naval Postgraduate School-Test Pilot School Coop program and graduated with Test Pilot School Class 97 in June 1990 as a Distinguished Graduate, receiving a Master of Science Degree in Aeronautical Engineering.

After graduation, he spent the next two years as a test pilot working on various F-14 projects. Selected to help take the new F-14D on its first operational deployment, his next assignment was to VF-31 at NAS Miramar where he served as Maintenance Officer and later Operations Officer.

Altman was awarded the Navy Air Medal for his role as a strike leader flying over Southern Iraq in support of Operation Southern Watch. Shortly following his return from this six-month deployment, he was called back to NASA and selected for the astronaut program. He has logged over 4000 flight hours in more than 40 types of aircraft.

Selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in December 1994, Altman reported to the Johnson Space Center in March 1995. He completed a year of training and was initially assigned to work technical aspects of orbiter landing and roll out issues for the Astronaut Office Vehicle Systems Branch. Scott has flown in space twice, logging over 664 hours.

STS-90 LaunchAbout 250 Tazewell County residents traveled to Florida to watch Scott's first space launch.  Students from Edison Junior High School presented him a school patch which he carried into space with him.

The official NASA flight status log off the STS-90 mission launch on April 17, 1998 says, "The crew had breakfast and departed the Operations and Checkout Building (O&C) for the pad at 11:02 a.m. The crew arrived at the Pad 39-B and began ingress at 11:18a.m. Hatch closeout was performed by 12:35 EDT and cabin leak checks were completed at 1:17 EDT. At 1:49pm EDT, the countdown clock came out of the planned hold at the T-minus 20 minute mark. At 2:10pm EDT, the countdown clock came out of the T-minus 9 minute mark. Liftoff occurred on time at the start of the launch window. The only ascent problem was with some ice buildup in the Water Spray Boiler system."

The Space Shuttle Columbia soared from Launch Pad 39 at Kennedy Space Center at 2:19 p.m. EDT to begin the nearly 17-day STS-90 Neurolab mission. The launch had been delayed 24 hours due to difficulty with a network signal processor, which was replaced April 16, on the orbiter.  The photo at the left is of the STS-90 launch.

Scott served as the pilot.  The other crew members were Mision Commander Richard Searfoss, Mission Specialists Richard Linnehan, D.V.M., Dafydd (Dave) Williams, M.D., with the Canadian Space Agency, and Kathryn (Kay) Hire; and Payload Specialists Jay Buckey, M.D., and James Pawelczyk, Ph.D.  During this 16-day Spacelab flight, the seven person crew served as both experimental subjects and operators for 26 individual life science experiments focusing on the effects of microgravity on the brain and nervous system. The STS-90 flight orbited the Earth 256 times, and covered 6.3 million miles in over 381 hours.

Later that year, during a welcome home assembly, Scott presented a Pekin Community High School flag he had carried into space with him to the Principal Tim Rowe. During his visit,  Scott commented, "One of the real treats while I was in space was looking down at central Illinois. It was the next to the last day and I was floating around the cabin and noticed we were flying over St. Louis. I looked out the window and followed the river up and I could see the Peoria airport and the Pekin area. It was a lot like being in an airliner."

International Space Station at STS-160 DepartureScott's second mission would be the STS-106 Atlantis mission during September of 2000.  During this 12-day mission, the crew successfully prepared the International Space Station (ISS) for the arrival of the first permanent crew. The five astronauts and two cosmonauts delivered more than 6,600 pounds of supplies and installed batteries, power converters, a toilet and a treadmill on the Space Station.

Scott again served as the pilot.  The other crew members were Mission Commander Terrence W. Wilcutt, Mission Specialists Boris V. Morukov and Yuri I. Malenchenko of the Russian Aviation and Space Agency and NASA Mission Specialists Daniel C. Burbank, Richard A. Mastracchio, and Edward T. Lu.

Scott was one of two operators of the robot arm transporting the EVA crew during the six hour spacewalk to connect power, data and communications cables to the newly arrived Zvezda Service Module and the station. Additionally, he hand flew two complete fly-arounds of the station after performing the undocking from the station. STS-106 orbited the Earth 185 times, and covered 4.9 million miles in 11 days, 19 hours, and 10 minutes.

Undocking occurred at 10:46 p.m. CDT Sunday 17 September 2000 about 240 miles over Russia. Standing at a cockpit control panel and gazing out overhead windows, Scott gently eased the 85-ton shuttle back away from the station to a point about 350 feet directly above the station. Then with a few short pulses from the shuttle's 44 nose-and-tail steering thrusters, Scott began flying a two-hour double-loop nose-first course around the station to enable the crew to document the condition of the new crew quarters they had just installed.

The photo at the right is how the space station looked to the crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis immediately after undocking. Scott commented later, "It glistened out there in the different sunlight, watching the sunrise and sunset. The way it illuminated the solar arrays on the service module was just phenomenal. It sparkled like a jewel against the blue background of the oceans."

The space station is currently about the size of a 13-story building. Shown at the top is the pressurized mating adapter where Atlantis had been docked. Next is the Unity connecting module, followed by the Zarya control module, and the Zvezda service (crew quarters) module. At the bottom is the Progress supply spacecraft that the Atlantis crew unloaded during the mission.

Scott fired Atlantis' jets one final time to leave the station at 12:35 a.m. After preparing for re-entry and waiting for the weather to clear, the Shuttle Atlantis returned to Kennedy Space Center at 2:56 a.m. CDT Wednesday, 20 September 2000, ending Scott's second mission.

Scott continues working in the NASA shuttle program.

Biographical information, space photos, and flight status reports are from the
Kennedy Space Center, Johnson Space Center, and NASA websites.
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Scott Altman quotes concerning Central Illinois & Pekin
are from various September 1998 articles in
The Pekin Daily Times
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