Owen K. Garriott, one of the original scientists selected to explore the cosmos first-hand and the first astronaut to operate an interstellar radio station, died Monday at his home in Huntsville, Alabama. He was 88 years old.
His death was confirmed by his son Richard.
Dr. Garriott flew into space twice. In 1973, he was the scientific pilot of Skylab 3, the unprecedented mission of 59 days, more than double the duration of any previous flight, to Skylab, the first space station in the United States.
He logged almost 14 hours out of Skylab on three spacewalks, during which physiological and biomedical metrics were monitored to determine the body's response to long periods of reduced gravity.
"We learned the importance of exercise," said Dr. Garriott. "If you have the right amount of exercise, that is, one or two hours a day, then you will return in a condition essentially as good as when you left."
At one point, Houston's controllers were stunned to hear the voice of a woman reporting to Skylab's mission control: "The guys have not had a home-cooked meal in a long time, I thought I'd mention it." Dr. Garriott later revealed that the voice was from his wife, who had recorded from home during a private radio broadcast the night before.
He returned to space in 1983 in the 10 days. Flight of the shuttle Columbia, which carried the Spacelab 1 module of the European Space Agency, in which a multinational team of scientists conducted an investigation.
In that mission, Dr. Garriott operated the first amateur radio station from space. He used his station's call sign, W5LFL, to connect with about 250 radio operators, including his mother in Enid, Oklahoma; Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona; and King Hussein of Jordan.
Owen Kay Garriott was born on November 22, 1930 in Enid to Owen Garriott, a wholesale distributor of oil and gas, and Mary Catherine (Mellick) Garriott. (His second name is derived from his mother.)
He attributed his interest in astronomy to a teacher he had in third grade.
"One of the things he had in his clbad was an orrery, a word that he had no idea what it meant when he was in third grade, but it's a small device that has a whole planetary system," Dr. Garriott recalled in a Interview with the Johnson Space Center in 2000.
"In those days you turn the handle a little bit, and everyone turns," he said. "I think, that's what the solar system looks like, fascinating."
His father invited Owen to join him to take adult radio clbades and Morse code. When I was 15 years old, I was a licensed amateur radio operator.
After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Oklahoma in 1953, Dr. Garriott served as an electronics officer in Navy destroyers. He received a master's degree in 1957 and his doctorate in 1960 from Stanford University, both in electrical engineering.
In 1965, while teaching at Stanford, Dr. Garriott applied to NASA on a whim: "in the same way it would apply to any other government position," he said later. He was one of the first six candidates accepted as astronaut scientists. He underwent one year of training in the Air Force and qualified as an aircraft pilot.
His marriage to Helen Walker in 1952 ended in divorce. In addition to his son Richard, his survivors include three other children of that marriage, Randall, Robert and Linda Garriott; his wife, Evelyn (Long) Garriott; Three stepchildren, Cindy Burcham, Bill Eyestone and Sandra Brooks; 12 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
In 2008, Richard Garriott, a successful inventor of video games, became the sixth space tourist and the first second-generation American to go into space. After receiving training in Russia, he joined a Russian flight commander and a US flight engineer aboard the Soyuz TMA-13 and arrived at the International Space Station two days later. He himself had been rejected as an astronaut due to bad eyesight.
At NASA, Dr. Garriott served in the mid-1970s as director of science and applications at the Johnson Space Center, where he was responsible for research in the physical sciences. He was the scientist of the space station project before retiring from NASA in 1986.
He was later vice president of space engineering at Teledyne Brown Engineering, which worked on Spacelab projects at the Marshall Space Flight Center and on the development of the laboratory for the International Space Station.
Dr. Garriott wrote "Introduction to ionospheric physics" (1969) with Henry Rishbeth and, together with David Hitt and his fellow astronaut Joseph Kerwin, "Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story" (2008).
In the last years of his life, Dr. Garriott taught at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and conducted research in extreme environments, from Antarctica to deep-water thermal vents. He ended a race in which he said he never got bored, even when he was in the void of outer space.
"Anyone who runs out of something to do must have had a failure in their imagination blocked there somewhere," he said. "Because if there's nothing else, you can look out the window, which would fascinate me for weeks."