There are achievers and then there's this Marine astronaut, surgeon, and mathematician

Story Musgrave has more than 18,000 hours in over 160 aircraft. He is a parachutist with over 800 freefalls. He has graduate degrees in math, computers, chemistry, medicine, physiology, literature and psychology. He has been awarded 20 honorary doctorates. Oh, and he was a part-time trauma surgeon during his 30-year astronaut career.

It all started with his decision to become a United States Marine.

“My horizons started to expand when I went off to Korea in the Marine Corps. As the saying goes, you join the service to see the world. That’s when my horizons began to expand.” – Story Musgrave

Franklin Story Musgrave grew up on a dairy farm in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. From an early age, he showed a remarkable intelligence and physical ability. At age 5, he was building homemade rafts and by age 10, he was driving trucks. By 13, he was fixing trucks. He attended a co-ed prep school which would have prepared him for a comfortable life in the post-World War II era, but instead of finishing high school, he decided to run off and enlist in the Marine Corps.

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“I was an airplane mechanic for the Marines in Korea at the age of 18, and that’s when I got introduced to things that don’t come home. Challenger was not an engineering accident. NASA was told about the problem [of the O-rings in low temperature]. So then the memory turns to solid anger.”Story Musgrave

He eventually did get a GED while serving. Musgrave spent his time in the Corps in Korea as an aviation electrician and instrument technician and later as an aircraft crew chief aboard the USS Wasp. After leaving the Marines, he almost averaged a new degree every year from 1958 until 1964, including his medical doctorate from Columbia University. He would earn another Master’s degree in Chemistry in 1966 and a degree in Literature in 1987 at age 52.

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Any hand I’m dealt, I will play to the best of my ability.” – Story Musgrave

Musgrave is also an accomplished pilot, earning FAA ratings for instructor, instrument instructor, glider instructor, and airline transport pilot. He also earned his astronaut wings in 1967.

“Space is a calling of mine, it struck like an epiphany. That occurred when NASA expressed an interest in flying people who were other than military test pilots. And when I was off in the Marine Corps in Korea, I had not graduated from high school, yet and so I could not fly. And so, I was not a military test pilot, but as soon as NASA expressed an interest in flying scientists and people who were not military test pilots, that was an epiphany that just came like a stroke of lightning.” – Story Musgrave

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Musgrave was selected as a scientist-astronaut and then worked on the design and development of the Skylab Program. He was also the backup science-pilot for the first Skylab mission.

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What’s really unique about Musgrave’s astronaut experience is that he flew on all five space shuttles, the dates below are for his first flight in these ships. He flew aboard Challenger twice:

  • Challenger, April 1983
  • Discovery, November 1989
  • Atlantis, November 1991
  • Endeavour, December 1993
  • Columbia, December 1996

Musgrave described the Space Shuttle as “very fragile” in an interview with Time Magazine, calling a “butterfly bolted on a bullet.”

His shuttle missions are extraordinary (among shuttle missions) as well. On board the Challenger‘s maiden voyage, he and Don Peterson conducted the first Space Shuttle Extra-Vehicular Activity (or EVA, a spacewalk, a mission outside the spacecraft) to test new space suits. On his Endeavour flight, he helped repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

Still, despite all his accomplishments (this doesn’t even cover most of them), Musgrave’s ribbon rack is one of a true Marine.

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“I’m massively privileged to be part of the space program, and I never forget to say that,” he told Huffington Post in a 2011 interview. He plans to return to space as a tourist.