Following graduation from West Point and completion of a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology, Peterson spent several years working for the Air Training Command, the Air Force Systems Command, and Tactical Air Command. Peterson was selected to become a NASA astronaut in 1969. He was part of the Apollo 16 support crew, but it would take him 14 years to finally get his moment to fly in space. He served as a mission specialist on STS-6, which launched April 4, 1983. During the five-day mission, he and fellow mission specialist Story Musgrave became the first spacewalkers of the Space Shuttle Program. Peterson’s unique approach to situating himself during one of the spacewalk’s tasks dislodged the seal keeping his spacesuit airtight; fortunately, the seal popped back into place and he was able to complete the spacewalk.
The last weekend of May saw the loss of not one, but two NASA astronauts. One day after the death of Apollo and Skylab astronaut Alan Bean, space shuttle astronaut Don Peterson, who flew aboard Challenger’s inaugural mission, died May 27 at age 84.
The Challenger mission was Peterson’s only spaceflight. He ultimately logged about 5 days in space and completed 81 orbits of Earth while on the shuttle. Although he had retired from the military, he continued to work full-time until 1993, after which he worked part-time prior to his retirement.