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William E. Thornton

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Title: William E. Thornton  
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William E. Thornton

William Edgar Thornton
NASA Astronaut
Nationality American
Status Retired
Born (1929-04-14) April 14, 1929
Faison, North Carolina
Other occupation
Medical Doctor
Time in space
13d 01h 16m
Selection 1967 NASA Group
Missions STS-8, STS-51-B
Mission insignia

William Edgar Thornton (M.D.) (born April 14, 1929) is a former NASA Astronaut. Thornton was born in Faison, North Carolina, and is married with two sons to the former Elizabeth Jennifer Fowler of Hertfordshire, England.


  • Education 1
  • Special honors 2
  • Experience 3
  • NASA experience 4
  • Spaceflight experience 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Special honors


Following graduation from the University of North Carolina and having completed Air Force ROTC training, Thornton served as officer-in-charge of the Instrumentation Lab at the Flight Test Air Proving Ground. He later became a consultant to Air Proving Ground Command.

As chief engineer of the electronics division of the Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.

Dr. Thornton returned to active duty with the United States Air Force and was then assigned to the USAF Aerospace Medical Division, Brooks Air Force Base, San Antonio, where he completed the Primary Flight Surgeon’s training in 1964. It was during his two-year tour of duty there that he became involved in space medicine research and subsequently applied and was selected for astronaut training. Dr. Thornton developed and designed the first mass measuring devices for space, which remain in use today.

Dr. Thornton has logged over 2,500 hours pilot flying time in jet aircraft, is currently a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas, and is an adjunct professor at the University of Houston–Clear Lake.

NASA experience

Thornton was selected as a scientist-astronaut by NASA in August 1967. He completed the required flight training at Reese Air Force Base, Texas. Thornton was physician crew member on the highly successful Skylab Medical Experiments Altitude Test (SMEAT)—a 56-day simulation of a Skylab mission enabling crewmen to collect medical experiments baseline data and evaluate equipment, operations, and procedures. Thornton was also the mission specialist on SMD III, a simulation of a Spacelab life sciences mission.

Thornton was a member of the astronaut support crew for the Skylab 2, 3, and 4 missions, and principal investigator for Skylab experiments on mass measurement, anthropometric measurements, hemodynamics, and human fluid shifts and physical conditioning. He first documented the shift and loss of fluid changes in body posture size and shape, including increase in height and the rapid loss of muscle strength and mass in space flight.

As a member of the Astronaut Office Operations Missions Development group, Thornton was responsible for developing crew procedures and techniques for deployable payloads, and for maintenance of crew conditions in flight. He developed advanced techniques for, and made studies in, kinesiology and kinesimetry related to space operations.

During Space Shuttle operations he continued physiological investigations in the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal and neurological areas. He developed the Shuttle treadmill for in-flight exercise and several other on-board devices. He was long an advocate for exercise as a countermeasure for conditions such as bone loss in space.[1] His work concentrated on the space adaptation syndrome, with relevant investigations on STS-4, STS-5, STS-6, STS-7, and STS-8.

Thornton holds more than 35 patents that range from military weapons systems through the first real-time EKG computer analysis. Space-related items include the first in-flight mass measurement devices, shock and vibration isolation systems, an improved waste collection system, an improved lower body negative pressure (LBNP) apparatus, and others.

A veteran of two space flights, Thornton has logged over 313 hours in space. He served as a mission specialist on STS-8 in 1983, and STS-51B in 1985.

Thornton continued his work in space medicine while awaiting his next flight opportunity. He worked on problems relative to extending mission durations in the Space Shuttle, in the Space station, and in space exploration, and has designed the necessary exercise and other hardware to support such missions. He continued analysis and publication of results from studies of neurological adaptation, and the study of neuromuscular inhibition following flight, osteoporosis in space and on Earth, and postflight orthostatic hypotension. He has completed designs for exercise and other countermeasure equipment for the Extended Duration Orbiter (EDO), and for Space Station Freedom, including improved treadmills, rowing machines, isotonic exercise devices, and a bicycle. Much of this is currently scheduled for flight.

Thornton retired from NASA effective May 31, 1994.

Spaceflight experience

STS-8 Challenger (August 30 to September 5, 1983). This was the third flight for the Challenger and the first mission with a night launch from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and a night landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. During the flight Thornton made almost continuous measurements and investigations of adaptation of the human body to weightlessness, especially of the nervous system and of the space adaptation syndrome. This was a continuation of his previous work in these areas. Much of the equipment used was designed and developed by Thornton. The mission was accomplished in 98 orbits of the Earth, traveling 2.2 million miles in 145 hours, 8 minutes, 4 seconds.[2]

STS-51B/Spacelab-3 Challenger (April 29 to May 6, 1985). The Spacelab-3 science mission was launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and returned to land at Edwards Air Force Base, California. During the 7-day flight, Thornton was responsible for the first animal payload in manned flight and other medical investigations. The mission was accomplished in 110 orbits of the Earth, traveling 2.9 million miles (4.7 million km) in 169 hours and 39 minutes.


  1. ^ Peter R. Cavanagh, Angelo A. Licata, and Andrea J. Rice (June 2005), "Exercise and pharmacological countermeasures for bone loss during long-duration space flight", Gravitational and Space Biology 18 (2): 39–58,  
  2. ^ Cliff Lethbridge. "STS-8 Fact Sheet". 

Further reading

Thornton was a contributor to the book "NASA's Scientist-Astronauts" by David Shayler and Colin Burgess.

External links

  • NASA Bio
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