Robert Franklyn "Bob" Overmyer (July 14, 1936 – March 22, 1996), (Col, USMC), was an American test pilot, naval aviator, aeronautical engineer, physicist, United States Marine Corps officer, and USAF/NASA astronaut. He was born in Lorain, Ohio, but considered Westlake, Ohio his hometown. Overmyer was selected by the United States Air Force as an astronaut for its Manned Orbiting Laboratory in 1966. Upon cancellation of this program in 1969, he became a NASA astronaut and served support crew duties for the Skylab program and Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. In 1976, he was assigned to the Space Shuttle program, and flew as pilot on STS-5 in 1982, and as commander on STS-51-B in 1985. He was selected as a lead investigator into the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and retired from NASA in 1986. Ten years later, Overmyer died in Duluth, Minnesota while testing the Cirrus VK-30 composite homebuilt aircraft.
Early life and education
Overmyer was born in Lorain, Ohio, on July 14, 1936. He was active in the Boy Scouts of America and earned the rank of First Class. He graduated from Westlake High School, Westlake, Ohio, in 1954, went on to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from Baldwin Wallace College in 1958, and a Master of Science degree in Aeronautics with a major in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1964.
Marine Corps and early NASA career
Overmyer entered active duty with the Marine Corps in January 1958. After completing Navy flight training in Kingsville, Texas, he was assigned to VMA-214 in November 1959. Overmyer was assigned to the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1962 to study Aeronautical Engineering. Upon completion of his graduate studies, he served one year with Marine Maintenance Squadron 17 at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. He was then assigned to the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Colonel Overmyer was chosen as an astronaut for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program in 1966.
The MOL program was canceled in 1969, and soon afterward Overmyer was selected as a NASA astronaut. His first assignment with NASA was engineering development duties on the Skylab Program from 1969 to 1971. From 1971 to 1972, he was a support crew member for Apollo 17 and was the launch capsule communicator. From 1973 to 1975, he was a support crew member for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project and was the NASA capsule communicator (CAPCOM) in the mission control center in Moscow. In 1976, he was assigned duties on the Space Shuttle Approach and Landing Tests (ALT) Program and was the prime T-38 Talon chase pilot for Orbiter Free-Flights 1 and 3. In 1979 Colonel Overmyer was assigned as the Deputy Vehicle Manager of OV-102 (Columbia) in charge of finishing the manufacturing and tiling of Columbia at the Kennedy Space Center preparing it for its first flight. This assignment lasted until Columbia was transported to the launch pad in 1980.
Space Shuttle career
Overmyer was the Pilot for STS-5, the first fully operational flight of the Shuttle program, which launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on November 11, 1982. He was accompanied by spacecraft commander Vance D. Brand and two Mission Specialists, Joseph P. Allen and William B. Lenoir. STS-5, the first mission with a four-man crew, clearly demonstrated the Space Shuttle as fully operational by the successful first deployment of two commercial communications satellites from the orbiter’s payload bay. The mission marked the first use of the Payload Assist Module (PAM-D), and its new ejection system. Numerous flight tests were performed throughout the mission to document Shuttle performance during launch, boost, orbit, atmospheric entry and landing phases. STS-5 was the last flight to carry the Development Flight Instrumentation (DFI) package to support flight testing. A Getaway Special, three Student Involvement Projects and medical experiments were also included on the mission. The STS-5 crew successfully concluded the 5-day orbital flight of Columbia with the first entry and landing through a cloud deck to a hard-surface runway and demonstrated maximum braking. Mission duration was 122 hours before landing on a concrete runway at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on November 16, 1982.
Overmyer was the Commander of STS-51-B, the Spacelab-3 (SL-3) mission. He commanded a crew of four astronauts and two Payload Specialists conducting a broad range of scientific experiments from space physics to the suitability of animal holding facilities. STS-51-B was also the first Shuttle flight to launch a small payload from a "Getaway Special" canister. STS-51-B launched at 12:02 p.m. EDT on April 29, 1985 from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, at 9:11 a.m. PDT on May 6, 1985. STS-51-B completed 110 orbits of the Earth at an altitude of 190 nautical miles.
Test pilot career
Post retiring from the space industry, Overmyer continued his career as a general aviation test pilot. Having former experience with aeronautical testing at both U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School and NASA, he joined Minnesota-based aircraft manufacturer Cirrus Design (now called Cirrus Aircraft) as test pilot in November 1995. He contributed to stall testing of the company's first design, the Cirrus VK-30 kit aircraft, which first flew in 1988, and performed early certification testing for the Cirrus SR20, which was certified in 1998 and helped pioneer the use of glass cockpits, composite materials and ballistic parachutes in the light production aircraft industry.
Overmyer died in a plane crash on March 22, 1996 near the Duluth International Airport while testing the Cirrus VK-30. He was testing the plane's wing for full-flap stall recovery characteristics at aft center of gravity limits. Overmyer was interred in Arlington National Cemetery. He is survived by his wife, Katherine, and three children: Carolyn Marie (born 1966), Patricia Ann (born 1968), and Robert Rolandus (born 1970).
Awards and honors
Overmyer was awarded the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal in 1969 for duties with the USAF Manned Orbiting Laboratory program; awarded the Marine Corps Meritorious Service Medal in 1978 for duties as the Chief Chase Pilot and support crewman for the Shuttle Approach and Landing Test Program; received an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree from Baldwin Wallace College, December 1982; awarded the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School Distinguished Engineers Award, January 1983; the Distinguished Flying Cross (1983); and the NASA Space Flight Medal (1983).
- Weight: 180 lb (82 kg)
- Height: 5 ft 11¾ in (1.81 m)
- Hair: Brown
- Eyes: Blue