Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, the commander of yesterday's space shuttle flight, piloted the same craft on a dramatic mission that rescued and repaired a damaged satellite in orbit 21 months ago.
Scobee, 46, one of seven crew members aboard the Challenger flight that ended in explosion, is a former Air Force test pilot who flew combat missions in Vietnam and had logged more than 6,500 hours flying in 45 types of aircraft.
A recipient of the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross and two Exceptional Service Medals from NASA, Scobee once said that his fascination with airplanes began during his childhood in Auburn, Wash.
"When you find something you really like to do and you're willing to risk the consequences of that, you really probably ought to go do it," Scobee told an interviewer in explaining why he became an astronaut.
His most ambitious assignment came in April 1984, when he piloted the first attempt to rescue an orbiting satellite. Scobee maneuvered the Challenger as the crew used its robot arm to snatch a crippled, 5,000-pound satellite from its orbit 305 miles above the Earth and park it in the shuttle's cargo bay for repairs.
After fixing the Solar Maximum Observatory ("Solar Max"), which had been out of service for almost four years, the Challenger crew placed it back into orbit shortly before returning to Earth. Scobee and his four fellow astronauts were jubilant at a postflight news conference, all wearing T-shirts bearing the name "Ace Satellite Repair Co."
But Scobee was not unfamiliar with the risks and setbacks of the space shuttle. NASA had moved the launch time of the satellite rescue mission forward by almost a minute to avoid any possibility that the Challenger might come too close to the Soviet Union's Salyut space station, then orbiting with six cosmonauts aboard. Eight days later, bad weather forced Scobee to forgo a planned landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and to touch down in the California desert instead.
Moreover, Scobee's first attempt to rescue the satellite failed when a crew member with a jet-propelled backpack failed to attach himself to the satellite and sent it into a faster spin.
Scobee got his first experience with airplanes when he joined the Air Force in 1957 after a brief stint with Boeing Co. Lacking money to go to college, he became an engine mechanic for propeller airplanes at Kelly Air Force Base in Texas. He attended night school in San Antonio and later graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering.
Scobee became a commissioned officer in 1965, did a combat tour in Vietnam and later attended the Air Force's test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. He experimented with several aircraft, including the Boeing 747, X24B, F111 and C5, before graduating in 1972.
Having piloted the most advanced transonic aircraft, Scobee's next logical step was to fly in space, and he applied to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
NASA selected Scobee as an astronaut candidate in 1978, and, after a year of training, he became eligible for shuttle flights. Scobee also served as an instructor-pilot on the 747 shuttle carrier plane.
As yesterday's ill-fated mission approached, Scobee talked about the importance of a flight that included the nation's first teacher in space.
"My perception is that the real significance of it . . . is that it will get people in this country, especially young people, expecting to fly in space," he said.
Scobee, who enjoyed motorcycling, racquetball and jogging as well as oil painting and woodworking, is survived by his wife, June, and two children, Kathie, 24, and Richard, 21. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Francis W. Scobee, live in Yakima, Wash.