High-flying astronaut Bill Pogue never lost his down-home roots

Former astronaut Bill Pogue (left) enjoys himself at the launch party of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum in January 1999. Pogue, 84, died Tuesday at his home in Florida. Tulsa World file

A fellow astronaut's "one small step for man" was still fresh on everyone's mind when Bill Pogue took a memorable step of his own.

Five days after arriving at the Skylab space station in 1973, the longtime Sand Springs resident stepped through the hatch and out into total emptiness.

It was Pogue's first time to walk in space.

About 270 miles above the Earth, the outing lasted roughly six hours. He went on to make another spacewalk later — all part of the 84 days he spent aboard the space station.

At the time, interest in the country's space program had never been higher. Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 team had just landed on the moon in 1969. Now, focus had shifted to Skylab, the country's first space station.

Real enough to Pogue then, in later years the experience became harder to grasp.

"Looking back, it almost seems like something that didn't really happen to me," he told a group in 1985. "But then, of course, I see the pictures we took, and that verifies it."

"The view of Earth from Skylab was really awe-inspiring, just to be able to look down and see it. I wish everyone could experience that particular feeling."

A former astronaut and retired Air Force colonel who was the pilot on the third and final Skylab mission, William R. "Bill" Pogue died Tuesday at his home in Florida, family members said.

He was 84. Funeral services are pending.

Pogue trained for nearly three years for the Skylab mission. Before that, among the fifth group of astronauts selected by NASA, he'd been on the support crews for the Apollo 7, 11 and 14 missions.

Officially called Skylab 4, though it was the third manned mission, Pogue's mission began on Nov. 16, 1973, with the launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida and lasted until the crew's return Feb. 8, 1974.

As part of NASA's final manned mission to rendezvous with the station, Pogue and fellow astronauts Gerald Carr and Edward Gibson set a number of space-related endurance and distance records while studying, among other things, the long-term effects of zero gravity on humans.

Their 12 weeks in orbit aboard the space station was a record at the time, topping the previous Skylab mission's eight.

One of Pogue's spacewalks, at seven-plus hours, also set the record at the time.

They orbited the Earth 1,214 times while aboard the station, traveling more than 35 million miles.

Born Jan. 23, 1930, in Okemah, Bill Pogue grew up attending small rural schools, where his father was a teacher.

After graduating from Sand Springs High School in 1947, he received a degree in education from Oklahoma Baptist University and entered the Air Force.

Highlights from the distinguished 25-year career that followed include serving as a combat fighter pilot in Korea, spending two years as an aerobatic pilot with the Air Force's Thunderbirds, teaching math at the Air Force Academy, and completing an exchange assignment as test pilot with Britain's Royal Air Force.

During his career, Pogue flew more than 50 types and models of aircraft.

In 1966, he became one of 19 applicants selected by NASA for the space program.

He was selected for the Skylab project in 1971.

After leaving NASA in 1977, Pogue worked as a consultant for several aerospace and energy firms, including for Boeing on what later became the international space station project.

Pogue also held a master's degree in mathematics from Oklahoma State University.

Among his many awards and citations, he was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1997. The William R. Pogue Municipal Airport in Sand Springs is named for him.

His brother, Jerry Pogue of Tulsa, said Bill Pogue had been his hero all of his life, beginning at "age 4 when he rescued me from a flogging rooster."

Bill Pogue's subsequent endeavors didn't do anything to hurt his hero status.

"How many high school juniors in 1957 could say they had flown 600 mph?" Jerry Pogue said of the time his brother took him up in his jet when he was flying with the Thunderbirds.

"And later, at Johnson Space Center, I was privileged to pilot a Gemini simulator capsule to rendezvous," he added.

Bill Pogue's "down-home background" never left him, his brother said.

"I always was amazed at how he was comfortable talking to a class in elementary school or to a lecture before aeronautical engineers."

The experience of speaking at schools even led Bill Pogue to write a book. Now in its third edition, his "How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space?" answers many of the questions he fielded from curious children and adults.

Pogue lived in northwest Arkansas for many years before moving to Florida a couple of years ago.

His Skylab 4 command module is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. He kept a model of it to show to groups.

Survivors include his wife, Tina Pogue; two sons, Bill Pogue and Tom Pogue; a daughter, Layna Pogue; a sister, Betty Prentice; two brothers, Jim Pogue and Jerry Pogue; and seven grandchildren.

Tim Stanley 918-581-8385


Hear Bill Pogue speak

Listen to an interview that was recorded for the Voices of Oklahoma project at voicesofoklahoma.com/william_pogue.html

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