Paul Weitz, the retired NASA astronaut who commanded the first Challenger space shuttle flight in the 1970s, has died at 85, The Independent noted.
The space veteran passed away on Monday at his retirement home in Flagstaff, Arizona, although no cause of death has been released yet.
According to a NASA biography, Weitz was one of the 19 astronauts selected by NASA in April 1966.
He piloted the Skylab 2, which launched on May 25, 1973, to embark upon a 28-day flight as the first manned Skylab mission.
The crew were on board the orbital workshop for 672 hours and 49 minutes and set a world record for the longest single mission of the time.
''Nearly all my time was spent at the window," Weitz later told The New York Times in an interview after the mission.
Weitz also successfully commanded the space shuttle Challenger, which launched from the Kennedy Space Center on April 4, 1983, to embark upon its maiden voyage.
Unfortunately, CBS News noted that the space craft would later suffer an ill fate when, during its 10th launch on Jan. 28, 1986, it was destroyed and seven crew members killed.
Weitz retired in May 1994, after logging a total of 793 hours in space and serving as deputy director of the Johnson Space Center.
Curtis Brown, board chairman of the Orlando-based Astronaut Scholarship Foundation said in a statement that, although Weitz’s name would always be synonymous with the space shuttle Challenger, he would also be remembered for "defying the laws of gravity – and age."
Brown said Weitz proved that age was just a number.
"Before it became commonplace to come out of retirement, Paul was a pioneer."
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