Joe H. Engle commanded the first manned craft to ever reenter space. Born on 26 August 1932 in Abilene, Kansas, he attended college at Kansas University. He graduated in 1955 with a degree in aeronautical engineering, and entered the US Air Force in 1957. After graduation from pilot training in 1958, he flew fighters with the various squadrons at George Air Force Base, California. Following subsequent fighter assignments overseas and stateside, Engle was selected to attend the USAF Experimental Test Pilot School and the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School.
In June 1963, he became a test pilot in the X-15 research program at Edwards Air Force Base, California. On 3 of his 16 flights in the X-15, he exceeded the altitude of 50 miles (the altitude that qualifies a pilot for astronaut rating), and NASA selected him to train as an astronaut in April 1966. He was the backup pilot of the lunar module for Apollo 14, and later the backup commander for STS-1, the first orbital test flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia. He also commanded the Columbia on STS-2, the second shuttle mission flown from 12-14 November 1981.
Colonel Engle is currently Deputy Associate Administrator of the Space Transport Program Office, Headquarters National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Washington, D.C., but he will return to duties as an astronaut at Johnson Space Center in the near future. He has received numerous awards and honors for his work with the X-15 research rocket airplane, the test program for the Space Shuttle Enterprise, and the STS-2 shuttle mission.
He was selected in 1964 as the Air Force Association's Outstanding Young USAF Officer and one of Ten Outstanding Young Men of America. In 1981 he received the Robert J. Collier Trophy, Kansan of the Year Award, the DAR Medal of Honor, and the Harmon International Trophy. He has flown more than 135 different types of aircraft and has logged approximately 10,000 flying hours (over 7,000 in jet aircraft). His current interests include rebuilding and flying historic aircraft, which date back to the 1940s.
The Columbia is the first reusable Spacecraft of its kind, and Colonel Joe Engle commanded the first relaunch of the vehicle. During the mission, he and fellow astronaut, Captain Richard Truly (USN), tested the capability of the shuttle to retrieve satellites for repair or return to earth. And they conducted the first unloading tests of the 50-foot remote manipulator arm designed to remove payloads from the orbiter bay. Although the duration of the mission was reduced from 5 days to 2 days because of a malfunctioning fuel cell, the crew accomplished 90 percent of its objectives.