Retired Col. Steven Nagel, a former NASA astronaut with ties to the central San Joaquin Valley, died Thursday -- leaving behind an impressive list of space shuttle adventures: commander of the Columbia in 1993 and the Atlantis in 1991, and in 1985, Challenger pilot and Discovery mission specialist.
Col. Nagel, a Fresno State graduate, earned his masters' degree in mechanical engineering from the university in 1978.
He died at the age of 67 after a long battle with cancer, according to the Association of Space Explorers.
Throughout his 32-year career with NASA, Col. Nagel spent 723 hours in space.
He also logged 12,600 hours of flight time as a pilot in the Air Force, retiring as a colonel in 1995.
"He blessed our lives in many ways," said Brian Kelly, director of flight operations for NASA. "His humor, positive approach to life, and constant smile is something we will all cherish. His service to our great nation and NASA is inspirational."
As an astronaut, Col. Nagel had numerous missions. Over his four space flights, he helped deploy satellites, conduct science experiments, explore gamma rays and map the earth.
He received many honors throughout his life, including four NASA Space Flight Medals and the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross.
Col. Nagel was born in 1946 in Illinois. He earned his undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering with high honors from the University of Illinois before he attended Fresno State.
He retired from the Aircraft Operations Division of NASA in 2011 and went on to teach in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department of the University of Missouri in Columbia.
He leaves behind his wife, Linda Godwin of Houston, Texas, and two daughters.
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