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Former NASA Scientist-Astronaut William Thornton Donates Items to N.C. Museum of History

Former NASA Scientist-Astronaut William Thornton Donates Items to N.C. Museum of History

Dr. William Thornton, a former NASA scientist-astronaut, visited the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh to donate the NASA flight suit, flight boots and other items he used as a crew member of the space shuttle STS-8 Challenger in 1983. STS-8 was the first NASA space shuttle mission with a night launch and a night landing.

Thornton, a native of Faison, received a bachelor’s degree in physics and a doctorate in medicine from UNC-Chapel Hill. He was selected as a scientist-astronaut by NASA in August 1967. A veteran of two space flights, Thornton served as a mission specialist on STS-8 Challenger and on STS-51B Challenger in 1985. He has logged more than 313 hours in space.

“Growing up in North Carolina, I did not see my first museum until I was 11 years old,” said Thornton, who currently resides in Boerne, Texas. “Several things I learned on that first visit were important to my work in space. It is a special pleasure to see this museum and the outstanding way the exhibits are presented, and it is a privilege to have my flight suit and other objects in it.” Thornton’s items will be featured in a future exhibit.

NASA’s website ( highlights Thornton’s role aboard STS-8 Challenger. “During the flight Dr. Thornton made almost continuous measurements and investigations of adaptation of the human body to weightlessness, especially of the nervous system and of the space adaptation syndrome.” He designed and developed much of the equipment for this purpose. Thornton holds more than 35 issued patents, ranging from military weapons systems to the first real-time EKG computer analysis to an improved waste collection system.

NASA’s website notes that during the flight STS-51B Challenger, the Spacelab-3 science mission, Thornton was responsible for medical investigations that included the first animal payload in manned flight.

“It isn’t every day that a museum can add objects that have been in outer space to its collection,” said RoAnn Bishop, Curator of Agriculture, Industry and Economic Life. “The North Carolina Museum of History is honored to receive from such a distinguished North Carolinian as Dr. Thornton these objects that represent the United States’ space industry. We truly appreciate Dr. Thornton’s service and contributions as a NASA scientist and astronaut and his generosity in donating his flight suit and other items to our state history museum.”

For more information about the N.C. Museum of History, call 919-807-7900 or go to or Facebook.


About the N.C.  Museum of History

The museum is located at 5 E. Edenton Street, across from the State Capitol. Parking is available in the lot across Wilmington Street. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. The Museum of History, within the Division of State History Museums, is part of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.

About the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources

The N.C. Department of Cultural Resources annually serves more than 19 million people through its 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, the nation’s first state-supported symphony orchestra, the State Library, the N.C. Arts Council, and the State Archives. Cultural Resources champions North Carolina’s creative industry, which employs nearly 300,000 North Carolinians and contributes more than $41 billion to the state’s economy. To learn more, visit

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