WINTER HARBOR — For Rick Hauck, the sky was not the limit. It was just a marker on his way to outer space.
He became an astronaut candidate in 1978 after NASA announced it was seeking pilots to fly space shuttle missions. The former Navy pilot was one of 15 people selected out of a pool of about 1,800 applicants.
He flew his first mission into space in 1983, serving as co-pilot to Bob Crippen, who had been one of the pilots on the first space shuttle mission in 1981. Among the members of the crew for the seven-day mission in 1983 was Sally Ride, the first woman in space.
“I still remember. It was magic,” Hauck said. “I had the most terrific, enjoyable and thrilling experience in my life.”
Hauck always wanted to be a pilot.
“I like speed,” he said, adding, “Velocity, not drugs.”
He attended Tufts University in Medford, Mass., graduating in 1962 with a degree in physics, a subject he enjoyed because of its precision.
“But my favorite courses were Shakespeare and international law,” he said.
After becoming a Navy pilot, he was selected for a grad school program through which his tuition and full salary would be paid while he attended school.
“I thought that I wanted to be a thermonuclear physicist,” he said. When he graduated with his master’s in the subject, however, he knew he didn’t want a career in that field. Instead, he continued flying, becoming qualified to land on an aircraft carrier and to fly the F-14 Tomcat fighter jets.
He flew 114 combat missions during Vietnam and then went to test pilot school, graduating just in time to apply for the NASA space program.
In 1985, he went on a second space shuttle mission. Over the course of eight days, the crew was assigned to send two satellites into space and to recover two that were no longer functioning.
“It was a very difficult thing, made more difficult by the fact that the hardware in orbit wasn’t as designed,” he said. Using their own ingenuity in combination with support from ground control, crew members accomplished their goal.
Hauck said he had difficulty sleeping while in space. Even though he used a seat belt, he still found himself floating a couple of inches above the seat. He also remembers holding his hands together to keep them from floating.
Much of the reason for his trouble wasn’t discomfort, however, but rather his being excited about his work in space.
Sometimes he would detatch himself from the seat, float to a window and watch the Earth go by.
“That had a calming effect,” he said.
Hauck said he was “stomach aware” but not nauseated when he flew in space. He likened the experience to learning to ride a bicycle.
“It opens up your world a bit,” he said.
Because the shuttle was only about 250 miles up, what was visible through the windows was “a face full of Earth” rather than a distant sphere. It was also upside down.
“You can see details like ship wakes if the sun angle is right,” he said.
In fact, he was able to see a highway in Saudi Arabia, even though the roadway was only about 200 feet in width. Because of its black color, it contrasted with the tan color of the desert.
It took the shuttle about 90 minutes to orbit the Earth, spending slightly more time on the light side of the Earth than on the dark side. Coming into the light side offered spectacular views of a sunrise 16 times each day.
“You come from behind the Earth and all the sudden, there’s the sun,” he said. “And it’s gone in three seconds.”
With no air to refract the light, the scene was quite different than what we see on Earth, he said.
In September 1988, Hauck was captain of the first flight after the Challenger disaster, which had taken place in January of 1986. The mission was only four days long.
“That was a nail-biter,” he said. “Our objective on this flight was just to get up safely and get back safely.”
NASA had never lost anyone in flight before Challenger and the Challenger tragedy eroded a sense of confidence that he and other astronauts had.
The pyrotechnics used to launch a shuttle are controlled by computer. The shuttle shakes as it rises.
“I remember thinking this was built by human beings. I hope it doesn’t blow up,” he said. “And then I remembered thinking that was totally unproductive thinking.”
Hauck, who was 48, retired from space flight after that mission. He worked in the private sector for 14 years, insuring commercial rockets.
Despite the Challenger tragedy, Hauck recalls his time as an astronaut fondly.
“It was joyful. We were very busy. Lots of things to do but you were doing things with close friends.”
Hauck will be at the Winter Harbor Lobster Festival on Saturday at 1 p.m. to meet visitors, who also are invited to take photos.