The only astronaut to have manually flown the Space Shuttle through the reentry phase from space, Joe H. Engle also flew formation on the SYNCOM IV-3 satellite while Mission Specialist van Hoften captured the spacecraft for repair. Born 26 August 1932 in Abilene, Kansas, Engle attended the University of Kansas and graduated in 1955 with a degree in aeronautical engineering. Engle was commissioned into the United States Air Force through the Reserve Officers Training Corps program and entered flying training in 1957. He flew F-100 Super Sabres in the 474th Fighter Day Squadron and the 309th Tactical Fighter Squadron at George Air Force Base, California, and in Spain, Italy, and Denmark.
After graduating from the Experimental Flight Test Pilot School in 1961 and the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School in 1962, Engle became an aerospace flight test pilot in the X-15 research program at Edwards Air Force Base, California. On 29 June 1965, at age 32, Captain Joe Engle became the nation's youngest astronaut on his 14th X-15 flight when he reached an altitude above 50 miles--the altitude that qualifies a pilot as astronaut. He made his third X-15 flight into space on 14 October 1965. Engle was assigned to NASA on 4 April 1966--the first and only astronaut recruit to have previously flown into space.
Engle flew two of the five Space Shuttle approach and landing test flights launched from a Boeing 747 carrier aircraft. These flights determined the shuttle's maneuvering characteristics. He returned to space on 12 November 1981 as the Commander of STS-2 in the Columbia. On STS-2, Engle manually flew Columbia down from space to explore the aerodynamic characteristics of the vehicle. He served as the Deputy Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight at NASA Headquarters in 1982 and then returned to flight status at Johnson Space Center in 1983.
On 27 August 1985, Engle again returned to space in command of STS-51I in the Discovery . This was one of the most action-packed of all the STS missions and had a minimum crew of five. Engle worked on the Challenger accident investigation and Shuttle Improvement Program until his retirement from NASA and the US Air Force in November 1986. He was promoted to brigadier general on 1 November 1986 in the Kansas Air National Guard.
Even though bad weather cancelled the launch on 26 August and appeared to be pulling an instant replay on 27 August 1985, STS-51I, with Colonel Engle in command, launched at 0658. In addition to orbiting three new communications satellites and running several experiments, the STS-51I mission plan included capturing, repairing, and redeploying the SYNCOM IV-3 communications satellite. No small feat, Colonel Engle and Pilot Richard O. Covey flew Discovery to within 35 feet of the inactive 15,400-pound satellite. While Engle maintained formation, Mission Specialist van Hoften, who was perched on the end of the manipulator arm, manually grappled the huge satellite. After repair in the payload bay, Engle again flew formation while van Hoften pushed the satellite out of the orbiter and applied several push impulses to spin and stabilize the unit. Ground control then deployed the satellite into its permanent orbit and function. This in-space capture, repair, and relaunch of the $85 million SYNCOM IV-3 satellite further demonstrated the value of the man-in-space program during one of the most amazing feats of modern history.