Retired NASA astronaut Paul Weitz, who logged 793 hours in space during the two missions -- Skylab in 1973 and the Challenger shuttle -- died Monday. Photo courtesy NASA/Twitter
Oct. 24 (UPI) -- Retired NASA astronaut Paul Weitz, who rode in the first manned Skylab mission in 1973 and commanded the maiden voyage of the space shuttle Challenger 10 years later, died Monday.
Weitz, 85, died in Flagstaff, Ariz., after being diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of blood cancer.
"We're saddened by the loss of retired astronaut Paul Weitzz who lived on Skylab & commanded 1st flight of Challenger," NASA posted Tuesday on Twitter.
Weitz, born in Erie, Pa., was one of 19 astronauts selected by NASA in April 1966, according to a NASA biography.
Weitz logged 793 hours in space during the two missions -- 672 hours and 42 minutes aboard the Skylab, including 2 hours and 11 minutes in space walks, and 120 hours on the Challenger in 1983.
On Skylab, he flew with Apollo 12 veteran Charles "Pete" Conrad, Jr., and Joseph Kerwin, also a rookie on the mission. The three astronauts conducted multiple space walks to repair the damaged craft from launch.
Weitz conducted a "stand-up EVA" where his head and body protruded out the Apollo command module's hatch while Kerwin held him by the ankles from inside.
"We had to get the temperatures under control if we were going to salvage Skylab at all," he told NASA in an oral history recorded in 2000.
Weitz returned to the Navy and retired as a captain in July 1976.
But he came out of retirement to fly aboard the Challenger with Karol Bobko, Story Musgrave and Donald Peterson 1983. The Challenger was destroyed and seven crew members killed during its 10th launch three years later.
Weitz became deputy director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, retiring in 1994.
He was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in October 1997.
Weitz received a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering from Pennsylvania State University in 1954 and a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., in 1964. He served in several naval squadrons until he was selected as an astronaut in 1966. He logged more than 7,700 hours flying time, including 6,400 hours in jet aircraft.