Former astronaut Owen Garriott, who flew on Skylab station, dies at 88

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Former astronaut Owen Garriott, who flew on America’s first space station, Skylab, and whose son followed him into orbit, died Monday at his home in Huntsville, Ala., according to NASA. He was 88.

‘‘Dad had a great 88 orbits around the sun!’’ tweeted son Richard, a computer game developer who paid the Russians $30 million for a ride to the International Space Station in 2008.

Owen Garriott, one of the original scientists selected to explore the cosmos firsthand, served on the second Skylab crew in 1973, spending close to 60 days in space, a record at the time.


He logged nearly 14 hours outside Skylab in three spacewalks, during which physiological and biomedical metrics were monitored to determine the body’s response to long periods spent in reduced gravity.

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“We learned the importance of exercise,” Dr. Garriott said. “If you have the appropriate amount of exercise, namely one to two hours a day, then you’re going to come back in essentially as good a condition as when you left.”

At one point, controllers in Houston were flabbergasted to hear a woman’s voice reporting to mission control from Skylab: “The boys haven’t had a home-cooked meal in so long, I thought I’d bring one up.” Dr. Garriott later revealed that the voice was his wife’s, which he had recorded from their home during a private radio transmission the night before.

He returned to space in 1983 on the 10-day flight of the shuttle Columbia, which carried the European Space Agency’s Spacelab 1 module, on which a multinational team of scientists conducted research.

On that mission, Dr. Garriott operated the first amateur radio station from space. He used his station’s call sign, W5LFL, to connect with about 250 ham operators, including his mother in Enid, Okla.; Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona; and King Hussein of Jordan.


While he never flew in space again, Dr. Garriott traveled to Kazakhstan in 2008 for his son’s launch aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. They were the first US father and son space travelers. The first second-generation astronaut, a Russian, launched just months before Richard Garriott and accompanied him back to Earth.

‘‘While he was normally very ‘‘Spock like’’ . . . our adult bonding around the experience of space was a rare treasure we shared,’’ Richard Garriott said Tuesday via Twitter.

Owen Garriott was born in Enid and served with the Navy.

His father invited Owen to join him in taking adult radio and Morse code classes. By the time he was 15, he was a licensed amateur radio operator.

After graduating with a bachelor of science degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1953, he served as an electronics officer on Navy destroyers. He earned a master’s in 1957 and a doctorate in 1960 from Stanford University, both in electrical engineering.


In 1965, while teaching at Stanford, Dr. Garriott applied on a whim to NASA — “the same way one would apply for any other government position,” he later said. He was among the first six candidates accepted as scientist-astronauts. He underwent a year of Air Force training and qualified as a jet pilot.

His marriage to Helen Walker in 1952 ended in divorce. In addition to his son Richard, his survivors include three other children from that marriage, Randall, Robert, and Linda; his wife, Evelyn (Long); three stepchildren, Cindy Burcham, Bill Eyestone, and Sandra Brooks; 12 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Mr. Garriott later held other positions within NASA, including director of science and applications at Johnson Space Center in Houston. He left NASA in 1986.

Condolences streamed in from fellow astronauts.

‘‘Saddened to learn the passing of former Astronaut Owen Garriott who pioneered long-duration spaceflight aboard #Skylab,’’ tweeted Scott Kelly, who spent a US-record one year aboard the International Space Station.

Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin described Mr. Garriott as ‘‘a good friend and an incredible astronaut.’’

‘‘Godspeed Owen,’’ Aldrin tweeted.

Material from The New York Times was used in this report.