Encyclopedia Astronautica

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Henize, Dr Karl Gordon (1926-1993) American astronomer mission specialist astronaut. Flew on STS-51-F.

Grew up on a 20 acre dairy farm overlloking the Little Miami River. His father died when he was eight, and he and his brother had to run the farm. He became an astronomer, serving in a variety of positions 1948-1968. He was accepted for training as a scientist astronaut in 1968, but had to wait 18 years for his only spaceflight. He was still on the active astronaut roster when he died of high altitude pulmonary edema while attempting to summit the north face of Mount Everest.

A Personal History

Born on October 17, 1926 near Cincinnati, Ohio; Karl grew up exploring the hills and valleys of Plainville and Marimont. His parents property covered a hill top above the little Miami river. The backside of the approximately 20 acres bordered on the (president) Taft Estate. Though it is a suburb today, it was all country in those days. He learned the flora and fauna of the area, excelled in science and math, and was a boy scout (which introduced him to astronomy). Boyhood heroes included Buck Rogers and Sir Edmund Hillary (the first man to summit Mt. Everest). His father Fred ran a small dairy and icehouse, as well as raising dogs and ferrets. When he passed away from pneumonia and a kidney infection when Karl was eight, Karl and his older brother Wilson had to take on responsibilities far beyond their age to see themselves and their mother Mabel through the era of the Great Depression.

America's entry into World War II ended the depression, and Wilson volunteered for submarine duty in the Pacific. Karl elected to not finish high school, instead entering the Navy's V-12 program, which first took him the Dennison University in Cincinnati, and then to the University of Virginia. The cave systems of that region of the country introduced him to the sport of spelunking. His daring in this earned him the nickname "Monk" (short for monkey). World War II ended before he received his Naval Commission, so he became a member of the Naval Reserve, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Commander and retained a draft status of A1 until being required to give that up when he became an Astronaut 1967.

After receiving a Masters degree in Mathematics from the University of Virginia, Karl went to South Africa as an employee of the University of Michigan to do a survey of the Southern sky. This endeavor took some three years, and Karl worked, played rugby, organized a small baseball league, made friends, explored, hiked and generally had a good time. On his return home he became a candidate for a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, and his survey plates of the southern sky became his thesis and much of his life's work after.

Karl met his future wife at Michigan in the summer of 1952. They married in 1953 and a year later set off for California for a post doctorate position at Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena. Jobs were scarce in Astronomy and it looked for a while as if Karl was going to have to go to work for IBM. Son Kurt was born in Pasadena, California in 1955. An opportunity for a position for the 18-month geophysical year appeared, so Karl and family left for Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Smithsonian Observatory. Karl's South African experience set him up as the man to pick sites around the world to set up Baker-Nunn satellite tracking cameras. There were, of course, no satellites to track yet, but setting this system up quickly was a priority. Cambridge was the site of the next addition to the family, daughter Marcia, born October 3, 1956. On Marcia's first birthday, Sputnik was launched by the Soviets, and it became clear why there was such a rush on getting the tracking telescopes placed.

Karl spent three years at Smithsonian before finding a professorship at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Daughter Skye was born there on June 5, 1961. Besides teaching, he also received government contracts to conduct experiments in space, and he and the family spent a year in Australia while he worked on Southern sky stars. By now, NASA was accepting applications for scientist astronauts. He conferred with his wife, and it was decided. The government, however, had other ideas, and told him he was too old at 38. However, Karl was accepted two years later at age 40, and accused his wife of pushing him into it.

Once in Houston the family had only five months in their new house before Karl took them to Enid, Oklahoma and to Vance Air Force base. Karl was required to become a jet pilot in order to be an Astronaut, and he along with Joe Allen were assigned to Vance Air Force Base. Both passed with flying colors (Karl holds the record for the oldest man to complete this 18 month course at the age of 42) and returned to Houston. Named for the air base on which he was conceived, son Vance was born on September 1, 1969 in Houston. A habitual workaholic, Karl filled his 18 year(!) wait for a flight assignment with mission planning, lecturing, further pursuing his astronomical research, keeping his flight hours current on T-38s, and an associate professorship at the University of Texas Astronomy department.

In the summer of 1985, his long awaited chance came aboard Challenger during STS 51-F, the 19th shuttle mission . The first attempt at liftoff was foiled by an automatic main engine shut down one second short of launch. As the main engines had been lit and burned for several seconds already, the pad abort was rather disconcerting with the spacecraft rocking wildly for several minutes afterwards. The solid rocket boosters, which were the demise of Challenger two missions later, were never ignited (they start at liftoff, and can not be turned off by any means, making a pad abort impossible). Two weeks later, on July 29, Challenger finally lifted off with Karl aboard. A few minutes into the flight, one of the main engines automatically shut down due to excessive overheating. Riding on only two of three main engines, the command "abort ATO, abort ATO" was given by ground control. This was immediately misconstrued by the families of the crew as a total mission abort, and cries of fear and frustration arose. However, it was quickly explained that "abort ATO" means "abort to orbit" and the shuttle was merely going to a lower orbit than planned, and would not be turning around to land at Cape Kennedy or Madrid. Another engine had threatened to fail later during the ascent (which would have demanded a landing at Madrid International airport!), but a ground controller saved the mission by coming to the conclusion that the thermometers must be faulty and shut them off. Indeed this was the case, and the engines had actually been fine in all instances. This was also the first and only shuttle mission to carry Coke and Pepsi drinks along. Both were a dismal failures due to the zero-g environment and the lack of refrigeration, though floating "Pepsi balls" did provide a source of entertainment to the crew. After 8 days, the mission ended a success despite the slight disadvantage the lower orbit brought to the solar observing experiments in the payload, as other instruments actually benefited from the lower orbit. Karl's name appeared for two years in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest man in space, until Vance Brand, Story Musgrave, and finally John Glenn, took his place. He still holds the record for the oldest rookie in space.

He retired from the astronaut corps in 1986, and took a position as a NASA senior scientist using his previous experience as a satellite tracker to study the growing problem of orbital debris. Noticing an errant statement in a Popular Mechanics magazine, stating that the Air Force was still tracking the glove that can be seen floating out of the cabin during the film of the first American space walk by Ed White, he called the editor to point out that such a small, light object would have de-orbited decades ago at that low altitude. The editor said that is what the Air Force says as part of its tour of its tracking facilities, but that he would call the Air Force to double check. The Air Force put an officer on the case to find out if this was really true, and was eventually referred back to Karl as being the best authority on such things. A retraction was printed a short time later.

In early 1993, he was invited to join an expedition to climb Mount Everest, and he naturally jumped on the chance to catch his second childhood hero, Sir Edmund Hillary. In mid September, he traveled to Tibet to join a British expedition attempting the climb of the north face of Everest. During his second day after reaching advanced base camp (22,000 feet), he started showing symptoms of extreme high altitude sickness. The capillaries had dilated to such an extent (so as to expose more of the blood stream to the oxygen-depleted air) that his lungs filled with blood plasma. A valiant effort was made the other members of the expedition to save him, but they could not get him off the mountain in time. He died 12 days short of his 67th birthday at 1 am, October 5th of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) at 18,000 feet, and was buried nearby above the Changste Glacier. News of his death did not arrive home until 3.5 days later. A memorial service was held in his honor on October 16th. He is survived by his wife, brother, four children, and 4 grandchildren. See the NASA biography below for more information.

Official NASA Biography

NAME: Karl Gordon Henize (Ph.D.)

NASA Astronaut

BIRTHPLACE AND DATE: Born on Oct. 17, 1926, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His Brother, Mr. Wilson C. Henize, resides in Florida.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Brown hair, brown eyes: height: 5'7"; weight: 170 lb.

EDUCATION: Bachelor of arts degree in Mathematics in 1947, and a master of arts degree in Astronomy in 1948 from the University of Virginia; and awarded a doctor of philosophy Astronomy in 1954 by the University of Michigan.

MARITAL STATUS: Married to the former Caroline Rose Weber of Bay City, Michigan.

CHILDREN: Kurt Gordon, Feb. 27, 1955; Marcia Lynn, Oct. 3, 1956; Skye Karen, June 5, 1961; Vance Karl, Sept. 1, 1969. RECREATIONAL INTERESTS: His hobbies include home computers, stamp collecting, and astronomy; and he also enjoys racquet ball, baseball, skin diving, and mountain climbing.

ORGANIZATIONS: Member of the American Astronomical Society; the Royal Astronomical Society; the Astronomical Society of the Pacific; the international Astronomical Union; Phi Beta Kappa; and a founding member of the Association of Space Explorers.

SPECIAL HONORS: Presented the Robert Gordon Memorial Award for 1968; recipient of NASA Group Achievement Awards (1971, 1974, 1975, 1978); awarded the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement medal (1974).

EXPERIENCE: Henize was an observer for the University of Michigan Observatory from 1948 to 1951, stationed at the Lamont-Hussey Observatory in Bloemfontain, Union of South Africa. While there he conducted an objective-prism spectroscopic survey of the southern sky for stars and nebulae showing emission lines of hydrogen.

In 1954 he became a Carnegie post-doctoral fellow at the Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena, California, and conducted spectroscopic and photometric studies of emmision-line stars and nebulae. From 1956 to 1959 he served as the senior astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Massachusetts. He was in charge of photographic satellite tracking stations for the satellite tracking program and responsible for the establishment and operation of a global network of 12 stations for photographic tracking of artificial earth satellites.

Dr. Henize was appointed associate professor in Northwestern University's Department of Astronomy in 1959 and was awarded a professorship in 1964. In addition to teaching, he conducted research on planetary nebulae, peculiar emmision-line stars, S-stars, and T-associations. During 1961 and 1962, he was a guest observer at Mt. Stromlo Observatory in Canberra, Australia, where he used instruments ranging from the Uppsala 20/26-inch Schmidt to the 74-inch parabolic reflector.

Henize also engaged in studies of Ultraviolet optical systems and astronomical systems suited to the manned space flight program. He became principal investigator of experiment S-013 which obtained ultraviolet stellar spectra during the Gemini 10, 11, and 12 flights. He also became principal investigator of experiment S-019 in which a 6-inch aperture objective-prism spectrograph was used on Skylab to obtain ultraviolet spectra of faint stars.

From 1974 to 1978 Dr. Henize chaired the NASA FAcility Definition Team for STARLAB, a proposed 1-meter UV telescope for Spacelab. From 1978 to 1980 he chaired the NASA Working Group for the Spacelab Wide-Angle Telescope. From 1979 to 1986 he was the chairman of the International Astronomical Union Working Group for the Space Schmidt Surveys and was one of the leaders in proposing the use of a 1-meter all-reflecting Schmidt telescope to carry out a deep full-sky survey in far-ultraviolet wavelengths.

From 1986 until his death in 1993, Henize was a NASA senior scientist working for the Orbital Debris Group investigating the danger posed by space debris to the space program, its nature, and origins.

NASA EXPERIENCE: Dr. Henize was selected as a scientist-astronaut by NASA in Aug. 1967. He has completed the initial academic training and the 53-week jet pilot training at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. He was a member of the Astronaut Support crew for the Apollo 15 mission and for the Skylab 2, 3, and 4 missions. He was mission specialist for the ASSESS-2 spacelab simulation mission in 1977. He has logged 2,300 hours flying time in jet aircraft.

Dr. Henize was a mission specialist on the Spacelab-2 mission (STS 51-F) which was launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on July 29, 1985. He was accompanied by Col. Charles Gordon Fullerton (spacecraft commander), Col. Roy D. Bridges (pilot), fellow mission specialists, Dr's. Anthony W. England, and F. Story Musgrave, as well as two payload specialists, Dr's. Loren Acton, and John-David Bartoe.

This mission was the first pallet-only Spacelab mission and the first mission to operate the Spacelab Instrument Pointing System (IPS). It carried 13 major experiments of which 7 were in the field of astronomy and solar physics, 3 were for studies of the earth's ionosphere, 2 were life science experiments, and 1 studied the properties of superfluid helium. Dr. Henize's responsibilities included testing and operating the IPS, operating the Remote Manipulator System (RMS), maintaining the Spacelab systems, and operating several of the experiments.

After 126 orbits of the earth, STS 51-F Challenger landed at Edward's Air Force Base, California, on Aug. 6, 1985. With the completion of this flight, Henize has logged 188 hours in Space.

PLACE OF DEATH AND DATE : Died at 1 am, Oct. 5, 1993 of high altitude pulmonary edema while attempting to summit the north face of Mount Everest in Tibet, China.

Birth Place: Cincinnati, Ohio.
Status: Deceased.

Born: 1926.10.17.
Died: 1993.10.05.
Spaceflights: 1 .
Total time in space: 7.95 days.

More... - Chronology...

Associated Countries
See also
  • NASA Group 6 - 1967 Requirement: additional scientist-astronauts for Apollo lunar landing and earth-orbit space station missions. Nickname: The Excess Eleven. More...

Associated Flights
  • Apollo 18 Crew: Gordon, Brand, Schmitt. Apollo 18 was originally planned in July 1969 to land in the moon's Schroter's Valley, a riverlike channel-way. The original February 1972 landing date was extended when NASA cancelled the Apollo 20 mission in January 1970.Support crew: Allen, Henize, Parker. More...
  • STS-51-F Crew: Acton, Bartoe, Bridges, England, Fullerton, Henize, Musgrave. Manned seven crew. Number one engine shut down prematurely during ascent; abort to orbit declared. Mission continued. Launched PDP; carried Spacelab 2. Primary O-ring was affected by heat. More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • USN American agency overseeing development of rockets, spacecraft, and rocket engines. USN Joint Task Force 7, USA. More...

Associated Programs
  • STS The Space Transportation System (Space Shuttle) was conceived originally as a completely reusable system that would provide cheap, routine access to space and replace all American and civilian military launch vehicles. Crippled by technological overreach, political compromise, and budget limitations, it instead ended up costing more than the expendable rockets it was to have replaced. STS sucked the money out of all other NASA projects for half a century. The military abandoned its use after the Challenger shuttle explosion in the 1980's. More...

  • Henize, Vance K., "Astronaut Karl G. Henize - A personal History", Web Address when accessed: here.

Henize Chronology

1967 August 4 - .
  • NASA Astronaut Training Group 6 selected. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Allen; Chapman; England; Henize; Holmquest; Lenoir; Llewellyn; Musgrave; O Leary; Parker; Thornton, Bill. The group was selected to provide additional scientist-astronauts for Apollo lunar landing and earth-orbit space station missions.. Qualifications: Doctorate in natural sciences, medicine, or engineering. Under 35 years old, under 183 cm height, excellent health. US citizen or willing to become a naturalized citizen.. In response to the poor result of the first scientist-astronaut selection, NASA went ahead with a second round of selections. 923 people applied, of which 69 selected by the National Academy of Sciences for NASA physical and mental evaluation. By the time the new astronauts reported, ambitious Apollo Applications plans had been scrapped, leading to their nickname 'The Excess Eleven'. Seven stayed on through the 1970's and finally got to fly aboard the space shuttle.

1973 July - .
  • Apollo 18 (cancelled) - . Crew: Gordon; Brand; Schmitt. Support Crew: Allen; Henize; Parker. Nation: USA. Related Persons: Gordon; Brand; Schmitt; Allen; Henize; Parker. Program: Apollo. Flight: Apollo 18. Spacecraft: Apollo CSM. The most likely landing site was the crater Gassendi. Before the cancellation, astronaut-geologist Schmitt was pressing for a more ambitious landing in Tycho or the lunar farside. NASA cancelled Apollo 18 and 19 on 2 September 1970 because of congressional cuts in FY 1971 NASA appropriations. Pressure from the scientific community resulted in geologist Schmitt flying on Apollo 17, the last lunar mission, bumping Joe Engle from the lunar module pilot slot.

1985 July 29 - . 21:00 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC39A. LV Family: Shuttle. Launch Vehicle: Shuttle. LV Configuration: Space Shuttle STS-26/51-F.
  • STS-51-F - . Call Sign: Challenger. Crew: Acton; Bartoe; Bridges; England; Fullerton; Henize; Musgrave. Payload: Challenger F08 / PDP / Spacelab 2 PLT. Mass: 15,603 kg (34,398 lb). Nation: USA. Related Persons: Acton; Bartoe; Bridges; England; Fullerton; Henize; Musgrave. Agency: NASA Houston. Program: STS. Class: Manned. Type: Manned spaceplane. Flight: STS-51-F. Spacecraft: Challenger. Duration: 7.95 days. Decay Date: 1985-08-06 . USAF Sat Cat: 15925 . COSPAR: 1985-063A. Apogee: 337 km (209 mi). Perigee: 203 km (126 mi). Inclination: 49.5000 deg. Period: 89.90 min. Manned seven crew. At 5 minutes, 45 seconds into ascent the number one engine shut down prematurely due to a a sensor problem and an abort to orbit was declared. Despite the anomaly the mission continued. Launched PDP; carried Spacelab 2. Payloads: Spacelab-2 with 13 experiments, Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment (SAREX), Protein Crystal Growth (PCG). The flight crew was divided into a red and blue team. Each team worked 12-hour shifts for 24-hour-a-day operation.

1985 August 6 - .
1993 October 5 - .
  • Death of Dr Karl Gordon Henize at Mt. Everest, NEPAL. High altitude pulmonary edema while attempting to summit the north face of Mount Everest. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Henize. Summary: American astronomer mission specialist astronaut. Flew on STS-51-F..

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