Space shuttle pilots David Hilmers and Marsha Ivins enter the Astronaut Hall of Fame

This year’s US Astronaut Hall of Fame induction ceremony was also a reunion of sorts, as the two winners took the stage beneath the spacecraft they once crossed paths with.

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida hosted the ceremony on Saturday (June 1) beneath the display of the retired space shuttle Atlantis. A packed house of former astronauts, space program officials and the public were on hand to watch David Hilmers and Marsha Ivins be added to the ranks of the audience.

“We are here to honor two distinguished space explorers, each of whom has had distinguished careers and made incredibly important contributions to NASA and the world,” said John Zarella, a former CNN space correspondent who served as master of ceremonies. “Together, they are the 25th class of astronauts to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, bringing the total number of astronauts in this prestigious association to 109.”

Related: NASA’s Space Shuttle Program in Pictures: A Tribute

Although they didn’t fly together — Hilmers and Ivins were chosen to become astronauts four years apart — they were both at NASA when the agency’s fourth winged orbiter made its maiden flight.

“It is extremely gratifying to be so honored under Atlantis. I was aboard Atlantis when it took to the skies for the very first time on a beautiful October day in 1985,” said Hilmers, who made the first of his four flights as a STS-51J mission specialist. ‘When we got off at the [launch] pad, the “Cape Crusaders” and Marsha were there and she helped us strap in, put on our survival vests and get into our seats.

“It is truly a privilege to share a stage with someone who I consider to be one of the best people in the world, both in the world and beyond,” said Ivins, addressing Hilmers before turning her attention to Atlantis and the audience below. “If you haven’t already, please look up and acknowledge this piece of human history that you are sitting under.”

a smiling man is going to drape a medal around a woman's neck

a smiling man is going to drape a medal around a woman’s neck

Hilmers also paid tribute to Atlantis in his remarks.

“Although she is retired, she is still on duty and giving many thousands of visitors the opportunity to see what it was like to be on board,” he said. “Like Atlantis, I have retired from active duty with NASA and embarked on a new mission. My path has taken me in a completely different direction, and this is actually the first time in over thirty years that I have returned to space. Kennedy Space Center.”

Hilmers and Ivins were welcomed into the Hall of Fame by one of their crew members: Norm Thagard, who flew with Hilmers on STS-42 in 1992 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, and John Grunsfeld, who flew with Ivins on STS- 42 launched. 81 in 1997 and was recorded in 2015.

“My original thought was, this is going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, because Colonel, Dr. David C. Hilmers is a pretty incredible person,” Thagard said. “My concern was that no matter how convincing I tried to be, those of you who don’t know Dave would say, ‘You’re exaggerating.’ The easy part is that I don’t need to exaggerate, because what I’m about to tell you is pretty incredible in itself.”

Half of Hilmers’ missions were flown for the Ministry of Defense. Both the STS-51J and STS-36, the latter in 1990, were launched on Atlantis with payloads that remain classified to this day. Hilmers’ other two flights were on the shuttle Discovery, including STS-26 in 1988, NASA’s “return to flight” after the Challenger tragedy in 1986; and STS-42, which focused on the effects of microgravity on different types of life.

After leaving NASA in 1992, Hilmers earned his doctorate in medicine (MD) and a second master’s degree in public health. He is currently a professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and in addition to his volunteer work in disaster response and resource-poor countries, Hilmers has helped NASA determine what the requirements for medical expertise will be during missions to the moon and Mars.

Related: Sending astronauts to Mars by 2040 is “an audacious goal,” but NASA is trying anyway

an older man drapes a medal around the neck of a man on a podiuman older man drapes a medal around the neck of a man on a podium

an older man drapes a medal around the neck of a man on a podium

Ivins left an equally impressive mark on NASA, Grunsfeld said, though she may have been the last to acknowledge that.

“Marsha is not an attention seeker. In fact, when [the call came] To announce that she has been selected for the Astronaut Hall of Fame, I think she had some reservations about this whole event,” Grunsfeld said.[Yet] Marsha, who didn’t want to be in the spotlight, still helped NASA move forward.”

“All of us who flew the space shuttle owe her a debt of gratitude for the work she did,” he said.

Ivins’ first flight into space was the first of her two on space shuttle Columbia. On STS-32 in 1990, she and her crewmates recovered the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF), a free-floating materials science platform the size of a school bus. Four years later on STS-62, she and her four crewmates continued to study the effects of microgravity on materials science and space technologies.

Ivins’ three other missions were aboard Atlantis, making her one of the orbiter’s three most frequent flyers. On STS-46 in 1992, she assisted in the first attempted deployment of the Tethered Satellite System. On STS-81 in 1997, Ivins visited Mir during the fifth shuttle mission to dock with the Russian space station. Finally, on STS-98 in 2001, Ivins helped install the U.S. “Destiny” laboratory for the International Space Station and provided supplies for the orbiting complex’s first crew.

Since leaving the agency, Ivins has served as a consultant on “A Beautiful Planet,” the last IMAX documentary shot in space, and supported proposals for a human lunar landing vehicle. Today, she is director of human systems integration at Sophic Synergistics, a Houston-based design consultancy supporting human space exploration.

a man and a woman stand next to displays celebrating their achievements in a museuma man and a woman stand next to displays celebrating their achievements in a museum

a man and a woman stand next to displays celebrating their achievements in a museum


— NASA’s Space Shuttles: Where Are They Now?

– NASA’s space shuttle: the first reusable spacecraft

– Experienced astronaut leaves NASA as the end of the space shuttle era is in sight

As with previous inductee classes, Hilmers and Ivins were selected by a committee of Astronaut Hall of Fame members, former NASA officials, historians and journalists. The process is administered by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

To be eligible for nomination, an astronaut must have made his or her first flight at least 15 years before induction. Applicants must be a U.S. citizen and a NASA-trained pilot, mission specialist, or a Space Shuttle commander, or an International Space Station commander or flight engineer who has orbited the Earth at least once and whose last day was that was eligible for a flight assignment as a NASA astronaut at least five years ago.

Saturday’s ceremony concluded with the unveiling of the glass etchings that will represent Hilmers and Ivins.

The plaques, which bear the likenesses of Hilmers and Ivins, as well as mission patches from their respective space flights, will be displayed in the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, which has been part of the Heroes & Legends attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex since 2016.

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