Pam Melroy (left to right), Scott Kelly and Michael López-Alegría, new inductees to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, show off their new medals Saturday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo by Paul Brinkmann/UPI
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., Nov. 13 (UPI) -- The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame inducted three veterans of spaceflight Saturday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, including Scott Kelly, famous for completing almost a year in space in 2016.
Kelly, 57, joined the hall inductees along with Pam Melroy, 60, who rode on three shuttle missions and now is NASA deputy administrator, and Michael López-Alegría, 63, who flew into space four times and plans to pilot the first all-private mission to the International Space Station in February.
"Scott Kelly just really inspired the world when he spent many, many days aboard the ISS," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during the induction ceremony. "And we know Scott is proud that he and his brother, Mark, were the first twin siblings to become astronauts in NASA's history."
A crowd of hundreds, wearing masks, gathered to see the ceremony Saturday and applaud the astronauts at the space center's visitor complex under the space shuttle Atlantis, which hangs from the ceiling.
Scott Kelly's photos of the Earth taken during his time in space helped propel him to fame. He was on the cover of Time Magazine in 2015.
He helped NASA understand the impact of long-term missions in space, Bob Cabana, NASA associate administrator, said while introducing him Saturday.
"He contributed to expanding our knowledge of the universe," Cabana said. "He advanced our knowledge of the long-term effects of microgravity on the human body, paving our way for the next giant leap to Mars."
Scott Kelly said a book inspired his interest in space: The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe, about fighter pilots and the Mercury-era astronauts.
He said he initially told NASA "no" when asked if he would fly a long-duration mission in space.
"My whole philosophy has always been, if someone asks you to do something hard, and you want to find a way out, that's fine," Scott Kelly said. "But when they come back for the second time -- and it's good for the team -- then that's what you need to do."
The inductees expect to welcome more astronauts in the future, including new Artemis-era moonwalkers, López-Alegría said.
"Those of us being inducted today stand on the shoulders of those of you who have come before us," he said. "It is really an honor, and we take very seriously our solemn duty to bear the weight of those who are coming after us."
López-Alegría is one of the world's top spacewalk participants, holding the cumulative time record for U.S. astronauts at 67 hours, 40 minutes. He's one of four U.S. astronauts to complete 10 spacewalks. Only Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyev has more cumulative time in spacewalks at 82 hours, 22 minutes.
In 2000, López-Alegría helped NASA test in-space jet packs that astronauts wear during spacewalks in case of emergencies with fellow astronaut Jeff Wisoff, flying up to 50 feet from the space shuttle.
Melroy served as pilot on two shuttle missions and commander of mission STS-120 in 2007, one of two women shuttle commanders, with Eileen Collins. All three missions were to assemble the International Space Station.
Melroy is known partly for helping to coordinate the difficult repair of a solar panel that had torn on the space station during her STS-120 mission, astronaut Susan Helms said Saturday as she introduced Melroy.
"It was exactly the kind of scenario where the leader of the team has to dig deep inside, finding inner strength in the face of adversity, and keeping cool headed on everyone's behalf," Helms said.
Melroy said she's committed to NASA's coming shift in focus from low-Earth orbit to deep space missions to the moon and Mars.
"We have to develop capabilities to do far more science with humans on the surface of another planet. This is a major paradigm shift," she said.
A committee of NASA officials, astronauts and other space authorities selects retired astronauts as inductees each year. The three additions to the Hall of Fame on Saturday were chosen as 2020 inductees, but the official ceremony was postponed during the pandemic.
Honorees must have completed a first spaceflight at least 17 years ago, have orbited the Earth at least once and been retired for at least five years.
During the ceremony, the crowd observed a moment of silence for astronauts who have died in the past two years, including Apollo 15 pilot Al Worden.
The three inductees recalled their most memorable moments in space during comments to the media afterward.
Whitson said it was seeing lights at night in China, thinking some little girl may be waving up at the space shuttle like she did when she was a child.
"I waved back," she said.
López-Alegría said he was awestruck by the bright blue colors of the Caribbean as he flew over it during the daytime.
Kelly said his most vivid memory is the thrust of liftoff.
"I would say when the solid rocket motors light on your first flight, you know, it gets your attention like nothing else," he said.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches NASA's third crew to the International Space Station at 9:03 p.m. November 10 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo