Charles Bassett : biography
Charles Arthur "Charlie" Bassett II (December 30, 1931 – February 28, 1966) was a United States Air Force test pilot. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1963 and assigned to Gemini 9, but died in an airplane crash during training for his first spaceflight.
Bassett was a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Phi Kappa Tau, Eta Kappa Nu, Tau Beta Pi and the Daedalians.
Bassett is honored at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center's Space Mirror Memorial, alongside 24 other NASA astronauts who died in the pursuit of space exploration.
His name also appears on the Fallen Astronaut memorial plaque at Hadley Rille on the moon.
Texas Tech University dedicated an electrical engineering research laboratory building in Bassett's honor in November 1996. In attendance that day, in addition to university administrators and NASA officials, was fellow Texas Tech graduate and future NASA astronaut, commander Rick Husband (who would himself die seven years later in the STS-107 accident.)
A family-approved account of Bassett's life appears in the book Fallen Astronauts by Colin Burgess and Kate Doolan UNP 2003. The crash is also mentioned in the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.
Early life and education
Bassett was born in Dayton, Ohio, on December 30, 1931. He was active in the Boy Scouts of America, where he achieved its second highest rank, Life Scout. After graduating from Berea High School in Berea in 1950, he attended Ohio State University from 1950 to 1952, and Texas Technological College, now Texas Tech University, from 1958 to 1960. He received a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering with honors from Texas Tech; he did graduate work at University of Southern California.
He graduated from the Aerospace Research Pilot School and the Air Force Experimental Pilot School and became a Captain in the U.S. Air Force. He served as an experimental test pilot and engineering test pilot in the Fighter Projects Office at Edwards Air Force Base, California. He logged over 3,600 hours-flying time, including over 2,900 hours in a jet aircraft.
Bassett was one of the third group of astronauts named by NASA in October 1963. In addition to participating in the overall astronaut training program, he had specific responsibilities pertaining to training and simulators. On November 8, 1965, he was selected as pilot of the Gemini 9 mission with Elliot See as command pilot. According to chief astronaut Deke Slayton's autobiography, he chose Bassett for Gemini 9 because he was "strong enough to carry" both himself and See. Slayton had also assigned Bassett as command module pilot for the second backup Apollo crew, alongside Frank Borman and William Anders.
Bassett and See were killed on February 28, 1966, when their T-38 trainer jet, piloted by See, crashed into McDonnell Aircraft Building 101, known as the McDonnell Space Center, located from Lambert Field airport in St. Louis, Missouri. Building 101 was where the Gemini spacecraft was built, and they were going there to train for two weeks in a simulator. They died within of their spacecraft. Both men were buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
A NASA investigative panel later concluded that pilot error, caused by poor visibility due to bad weather, was the principal cause of the accident. The panel concluded that See was flying too low to the ground during his second approach, probably as a result of the poor visibility.
Bassett was survived by his wife and two children.
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