To accept the risks in order to strive for something greater than oneself sets the true hero apart and NASA’s pioneering astronauts were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. When these heroes returned to Earth, this sense of service continued. This trait led the six surviving Mercury 7 astronauts, along with Betty Grissom, widow of Mercury Astronaut Gus Grissom, to create the Mercury 7 Foundation, more than 30 years ago, with the goal of helping university students pursue their dreams in science, math and technology. The Mercury 7 Foundation later became the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF). Those same astronauts also conceived of a place where space travelers could be remembered — much like baseball players and other sports figures.
On a hot day in May 1990, these visions were realized when the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame officially opened outside Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The outdoor ceremony honored the Mercury 7 astronauts as the first inductees.
Henri Landwirth, who had been instrumental in incorporating the Mercury 7 Foundation as a nonprofit teamed up with Ed Buckbee, head of the United States Space Camp and Associated Press Bureau Chief Howard Benedict, who all worked together in bringing the idea of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame to life. Benedict went on to become the executive director of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
Later, the U.S. Space Camp organization built a new educational space camp incorporating the Hall of Fame, an exhibit hall to display artifacts from the astronauts and highlight their ongoing achievements. The programs provided scholarship funding and were a headquarters for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
Delaware North acquired the Astronaut Hall of Fame on behalf of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and after a three-month renovation, reopened December 14, 2002. Once officially part of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, the Hall of Fame complemented the existing attractions at the visitor complex.
Since its inception, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation has awarded more than $4 million in merit-based scholarships to more than 400 brilliant students. Today, astronauts from the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs have joined in the mission of ASF.
Each year, inductees are selected by a committee of Hall of Fame astronauts, former NASA officials, flight directors, historians and journalists. The process is administered by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. To be eligible, an astronaut must have made his or her first flight at least 17 years before the induction. Candidates must be a U.S. citizen and a NASA-trained commander, pilot or mission specialist who has orbited the earth at least once.
Special thanks to Harvey “Al” Miller and Hugh Harris for historical information.