Born into an Air Force family, Colonel Richard O. Covey wanted to fly since childhood, but he could hardly have known that one day he’d speed away from the earth at more than five miles per second. Covey graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and was commissioned in 1968. A Distinguished Graduate in Engineering Sciences, he went on to Purdue University and earned a Master of Science degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics. During two Southeast Asia tours between 1970 and 1975, Covey flew 339 combat missions in the F-100 Super Sabre, the A-37 Dragonfly, and the A-7D Corsair II .
Returning stateside, Covey attended USAF Test Pilot School and received the Liethen-Tittle Award as the outstanding graduate of his class. His testing of the then-revolutionary optical targeting systems was a key step in the development of the precision weapons used so successfully in Operation Desert Storm. With over 5,000 hours in more than 30 different types of aircraft, Covey has flown with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration since January 1978. Prior to the shuttle’s first flight, he flew hundreds of simulated reentries, proving the feasibility of the orbiter design.
In August 1985, on his first flight in space, Covey piloted Discovery as the five-man crew accomplished their primary mission of deploying three satellites. In a spectacular secondary mission, Covey maneuvered the orbiter to a perfect rendezvous with a malfunctioning Navy communications satellite. The crew brought it on board, repaired it, and launched it back into orbit to be fully activated by ground control. Not only was this the first manual grapple and deployment of a satellite in space, but the “hot wiring” of the faulty electronics saved a $75 million satellite that continues to work today. His next flight, again piloting Discovery, was the first to be flown following the loss of Challenger.
As the people of the world held their breath, Covey and his fellow crewmembers proved the effectiveness of more than 250 safety modifications made after the accident. Covey commanded Atlantis on his next space flight, executing a rare night launch and successfully deploying a classified payload. Strong winds and poor weather precluded landing at Edwards AFB and Covey prepared for recovery at Kennedy Space Center. After 80 orbits, Atlantis landed without incident–the first Florida recovery since 1985. With over 385 hours in space, Covey is one of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s most experienced shuttle crewmembers. As Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office, he guided the work of 103 civilian and military astronauts.