Astronaut and USAF Colonel, William Pogue, Dead at 84

by Lisa M.A. Winters, contributing writer

The Skylab astronaut who wrote the children’s book How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space? and the autobiography But for the Grace of God: An Autobiography of an Aviator and Astronaut, died of natural causes on March 3 in his Cocoa Beach, Florida, home.

Colonel Pogue Skylab portrait

William Reid Pogue was born in Okemah, Okla., on Jan. 23, 1930, a member of the Choctaw Nation.

Pogue attended schools in Oklahoma, including a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Oklahoma Baptist University. He then enlisted in the Air Force, and after 43 combat missions in Korea and a stint with the USAF Thunderbirds air acrobatic team, he added a Master of Science degree in mathematics from Oklahoma State University in 1960.

NASA selected him to become an astronaut in 1966 and assigned him to the support crews for the Apollo 7, 11 and 14 missions. “I was going to be on 19 with Fred Haise and Jerry Carr,” Pogue said in a NASA interview. “They did not want to announce us, and for good reason, because [our chances of flying] looked pretty bad in Washington, as far as the budget was concerned.”

Instead of Apollo, Pogue was appointed to be the pilot of Skylab 4, the third and final manned visit to the Skylab orbital workshop. The mission launched November 16 and concluded February 8, 1974. This was the longest manned flight in the history of manned space exploration to date. Pogue’s teammates were Gerald P. Carr (mission commander) and Dr. Edward G. Gibson (science-pilot). They successfully completed 56 experiments, 26 science demonstrations, 15 subsystem detailed objectives, and 13 student investigations during their 1,214 revolutions of the earth. Colonel Pogue logged 13 hours and 31 minutes in two EVAs outside the orbital workshop.

After retiring from NASA in 1975, Pogue became a consultant to the aircraft manufacturers Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) and Boeing, helping to develop space station technology. Unsurprisingly, as the “earthiest of the astronauts” (as writer Henry S. F. Cooper, Jr. called Pogue), he was particularly proud of contributing to spacecraft improvements in such facilities as toilets, showers, sleeping hammocks, exercise equipment, kitchens and a line of special plastic sacks known in the high-altitude trades as vomitus bags.

Colonel Pogue was awarded many honors: NASA and Air Force service medals, induction into the Oklahoma Aviation and Space Hall of Fame in 1980 and enshrinement in the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1997. He has also had William R. Pogue Municipal Airport in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, named after him.

He wrote several books; possibly the most notable is the memorably-entitled “How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space?”, originally published in 1985. He revised the book twice, in 1991 and 1999, to bring it up to date. He also penned “Astronaut Primer” in 1985 and “Space Trivia” in 2003. Together with science fiction author Ben Bova, Pogue wrote “The Trikon Deception”, his only novel, in 1992. His last published book was his 2011 autobiography, “But for the Grace of God: An Autobiography of an Aviator and Astronaut”.

Pogue - But For the Grace of God cover

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, originally established in 1984 as the Mercury Seven Foundation, enlists any of the American astronauts to become participants in the Foundation’s work — William Pogue served on the Board of Directors. Tina Pogue, the Colonel’s widow, said she hopes to orchestrate donations to the Foundation in lieu of flowers.

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