Astronaut with NH ties dies at 62

By KIMBERLEY HAAS
Union Leader Correspondent
October 10. 2018 9:31PM
This courtesy photo from the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center shows Col. Richard Searfoss speaking during an event in May of 2017. 

Astronaut Richard Searfoss, who grew up in Portsmouth, flew three space shuttle missions during his career at NASA. He is shown here on the Atlantis in 1996. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

PORTSMOUTH — A NASA astronaut who considered Portsmouth home is being remembered fondly as word of his death spreads throughout the Granite State.

Richard Searfoss was 62-years-old when he passed away at his California home on Sept. 29. He was born in Michigan and raised in New Hampshire, graduating from Portsmouth High School in 1974.

As an adult, Searfoss followed in his father Jerry’s footsteps and became an Air Force test pilot, rising to the rank of colonel. In 1990, he was chosen by NASA to become an astronaut.

He would as a pilot and commander on three space missions.

Searfoss served as a pilot on a seven-person research mission aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1993.

The crew conducted experiments on themselves and 48 rats, focused on “cardiovascular, cardiopulmonary, metabolic, and musculoskeletal (systems)... expanding our knowledge of human and animal physiology both on earth and in space flight,” according to a biography of Searfoss from the Johnson Space Center.

In 1996, Searfoss was a pilot aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

During this mission the crew successfully docked with the Russian space station Mir, delivering supplies and equipment and a U.S. astronaut, Shannon Lucid, to begin her six-month stay in space, according to the Johnson Space Center.

The crew also completed the first ever spacewalk on a combined shuttle-station complex and conducted scientific investigations, including studies in biology and earth observation, the center said.

Searfoss commanded a crew on the Neurolab mission in 1998, the center said.

This mission was a 16-day flight where the crew performed life science experiments “focusing on the effects of microgravity on the brain and nervous system,” the center said.

These experiments will help to prepare for future long duration human space missions, the center said.

Three of the seven crew members on that mission were New Hampshire residents, including Searfoss, Jay Buckey of Hanover and Rick Linnehan of Pelham.

Portsmouth Mayor Jack Blalock said Wednesday that residents are proud Searfoss called the Port City his hometown.

“Portsmouth is extremely proud to have him achieve so much and have the amazing life he did,” Blalock said.

Jeanne Gerulskis, executive director of the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, knew Searfoss personally. He dedicated his time to speaking at the center when asked, most recently at AerospaceFest in May of 2017.

“He was just so personable and enjoyable,” Gerulskis said. “After he stopped flying he became a motivational speaker. New Hampshire always had a special place in his heart and he was so dedicated to getting kids excited about flying and space exploration.”

Funeral services are scheduled for Friday at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Tehachapi, Calif.

Interment, with full military honors, will be held Nov. 30.


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