This blog includes text and images drawn from historical sources that may contain material that is offensive or harmful. We strive to accurately represent the past while being sensitive to the needs and concerns of our audience. If you have any feedback to share on this topic, please either comment on a relevant post, or use our Ask Us form to contact us.

Princeton in Space

Several Princetonians have braved the final frontier, beginning with NASA’s Apollo missions. Here we present a brief overview of their contributions to space exploration.

Charles “Pete” Conrad ’53

Charles Conrad studied aeronautical engineering at Princeton, earning his B.S. in 1953. A little less than a decade later, NASA chose him alongside eight other men to train for the Gemini and Apollo projects. After his return to Earth as the pilot for Gemini 5 in 1965 set a record for the longest time humans had spent in space (eight days), Princeton took the unprecedented step of raising its flag above Nassau Hall to celebrate.

As commander of the Apollo 12 mission in 1969, Conrad was the third human to walk on the moon, quipping, “That might have been a short step for Neil [Armstrong] but it was a damn long one for me.” He took five Princeton flags with him on the trip, later presenting one to the University.

Princeton University flag taken to the moon by Charles “Pete” Conrad ’53. Memorabilia Collection (AC053).

Conrad then commanded NASA’s Skylab 2, the first crew to board America’s first manned space station, in 1973, repairing damage Skylab Orbital Workshop sustained on its unmanned flight. For this, Jimmy Carter awarded him the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978.

Clipping from the Daily Princetonian, April 10, 1972.

Gerald Carr *62

Gerald Carr earned his M.S. in aeronautical engineering from Princeton University in 1962. NASA selected him as an astronaut in 1966. After serving on the support crews and as capsule communicator for the Apollo 8 and 12 flights, Carr commanded Skylab 4, the third and final manned mission to the Skylab space station, in 1973-1974. At the time, his flight of a little over 84 days was the longest in the history of manned space travel.

James C. Adamson *77

James C. Adamson earned his M.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Princeton in 1977. In 1974, NASA selected him to train for Space Shuttle flights. The Challenger disaster delayed his initial mission, but ultimately, Adamson joined the crew on the Space Shuttle Columbia for its first flight in 1989. Adamson also served on board a 1991 flight of the Atlantis.

Gregory T. Linteris ’79 *90

Gregory T. Linteris is a member of the Princeton University undergraduate Class of 1979 who also earned a Princeton Ph.D. in mechanical and aerospace engineering in 1990. Linteris was a payload specialist on STS-83 and STS-94 missions on the space shuttle Columbia in 1997.

Greg Linteris, 1997. Photo from Daily Princetonian.

Daniel T. Barry *80

Daniel T. Barry earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton University in 1980. In 1992, Barry reported to the Johnson Space Center for training as a mission specialist on Space Shuttle flights. Barry first traveled to space on the Endeavor’s STS-72 flight in 1996, during which he performed a spacewalk to demonstrate the techniques used to assemble the International Space Station. He next flew in 1996 on the Discovery’s STS-96 mission, which was the first to dock with the station. On this mission, Barry carried a banner with the logo of the Centennial of the Princeton University Graduate School. Barry last traveled to space with NASA on the Discovery’s STS-105 mission to the station in 2001. He performed spacewalks on each of these missions.

Gerhard Thiele, Postdoctoral Oceanographer

Gerhard Thiele worked as a postdoctoral oceanographer in Princeton University’s Program in Geophysical Fluid Dynamics in 1986-1987. He left Princeton in order to join Germany’s space program. In 2000, Thiele flew on the STS-99 aboard NASA’s Endeavor, which was the last flight for the shuttle and the first and only space flight for Thiele. Thiele served as Mission Specialist 1 in a crew that also included four American astronauts and one Japanese astronaut.

Gerhard Thiele, ca. 1986. Photo by Robert Matthews for Princeton Weekly Bulletin.

Brian Binnie *78

Brian Binnie earned his M.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from Princeton University in 1978. He set world records with the flight of SpaceShipOne in 2004, reaching altitudes private spacecraft had never achieved before. He was one of only three pilots who had flown alone in space.

Greg Olsen, Entrepreneur-in-Residence

Greg Olsen, the founder of the local company Sensors Unlimited, was the third tourist in space, having flown to the International Space Station for a 10-day trip in 2005. He purchased his seat on the Russian shuttles Soyuz TMA-7 and Soyuz TMA-6 through the Virginia-based company Space Adventures for a reported $20 million. He took a small Princeton flag with him which was stamped with the logo of the International Space Station. He is currently an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Princeton University’s Keller Center.

International Space Station stamp on reverse of Princeton University flag. School of Engineering and Applied Science Records (AC162), Box 164.

The Princeton Telescope

Not all of Princeton University’s contributions to space exploration have been astronauts. In 1972, NASA’s Copernicus satellite launched with a telescope Princeton built on board. For his leadership on the project, NASA awarded Lyman Spitzer Jr.. chairman of the astrophysical sciences department and director of the observatory, with its Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal that year. At the time, it was the largest telescope ever launched into space. John B. Rogerson, who also worked on the project, explained its purpose: “We are going to investigate the ashes of stars that have died or the seeds of stars to be born.” The satellite’s longevity far exceeded expectations. Though NASA thought it would last about a year, they kept it in continued use for nearly a decade, turning it off in 1981.

The Princeton Telescope in the process of being installed on board the Copernicus satellite, 1972. Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection (AC126), Box 25.

Thank you to Gregory T. Linteris ’79 *90 who corrected our initial error in listing him as a member of the Class of 1978, rather than 1979.

March 3, 2023 update: Makoto Suwa *07 has recently been selected as an astronaut in the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Following his two-year training program, Suwa may join the list of Princetonians in space.


Astrophysical Sciences Department Records (AC157)

Daily Princetonian

Graduate School Centennial Records (AC252)

Memorabilia Collection (AC053)

Office of Communications Records (AC168)

Office of the President Records: Robert Goheen Subgroup (AC193)

Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection (AC126)

School of Engineering and Applied Science Records (AC162)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.