Steven R. Nagel (Col, USAF) passed away in Columbia, Missouri, Thursday August 21 at the age of 67 following a battle with advanced melanoma. Steve was born in Canton, Illinois to Ivan “Pete” Nagel and Helene Nagel. He enjoyed growing up in that town where his love of flying began, ultimately leading to his lifelong career in aviation and aerospace. Steve and his father rarely went a day without being at an airport; early on he watched his father rebuild a Piper Cub (somehow) in their garage. His father first taught him to fly, although his official flight instructor was his good friend Ed Reinholtz who ran the flying service at his local airport and for whom he worked in the summer while going to college. Steve always liked to say that he soloed in an airplane before he got his driver’s license.
Steve studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Illinois where he flew tow planes for the gliding club and also participated in ROTC. He received his commission to the Air Force after graduation and entered pilot training at Laredo Air Force Base, Texas in 1979. Later he received training for F-100’s at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona and flew F-100’s with the 68th Tactical Fighter Squadron at England Air Force Base, Louisiana.
Steve served in Southeast Asia for a year as a T-28 instructor for the Laotian Air Force at Udorn, Thailand prior to returning to the United States in October 1972 to assume A-7D instructor pilot and flight examiner duties at England Air Force Base, Louisiana. Steve attended the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California from February 1975 thru December 1975 and subsequently was assigned as a test pilot with the 6512th Test Squadron at Edwards. There he worked on various projects that included flying F-4’s and A-7D’s. During this time he received a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from California State University at Fresno.
Steve applied to and was selected to be a member of the NASA Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas in 1978. While there he flew on four space shuttle missions, two as the commander, on which he deployed communication satellites and an astronomy telescope as well as participated in two spacelab scientific missions. Following the completion of his fourth flight, Steve logged a total of 723 hours in space. He supported numerous other projects including the development of a crew escape system for the space shuttle following the 1986 Challenger accident.
In 1995, following 17 years in the Astronaut Office and retiring from the Air Force, Steve served for a time as Deputy Director for the Safety Office at Johnson Space Center. He then returned to his love of flying as he transitioned to the Aircraft Operations Division and worked for a number of years as a research pilot and Shuttle Training Aircraft instructor for other astronauts, flying T-38’s and Gulfstreams. Between his Air Force, NASA, and general aviation career Steve logged around 13,000 hours of flying time, a large portion of which was in jet aircraft.
After retirement from NASA in 2011, Steve and his wife Linda moved to Columbia, Missouri with their daughter Lauren where they joined the University of Missouri faculty. Steve taught and mentored students in the Mechanical Engineering Department. He enjoyed passing along his knowledge and personal experiences to his students.
He was awarded numerous awards during his career, including the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with seven Oak Leaf Cluster. For pilot training he received the Commander’s Trophy, the Flying Trophy, the Academic Trophy, and the Orville Wright Achievement Award (Order of Daedalians). He also received the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal. He earned four NASA Space Flight Medals, two Exceptional Service Medals, an Outstanding Leadership Medal, and the AAS Flight Achievement Award.
Although Steve’s career included aeronautical engineer, Air Force test pilot, Space Shuttle commander, and many honorable awards, he was modest about those accomplishments and most important to him were his family and his strong Christian faith. He treasured his daughters Whitney and Lauren and his relationship with his wife Linda. Friends commented on his generosity, kindness, humility, and laughter, and his friendship was valued by all who had the chance to share a part of his life.
He is survived by his wife, Linda Godwin, and two daughters, Whitney (Alex) Pasquini and Lauren Nagel, nieces Stephanie Churchill (Cheryl Lefler), and Jenny Churchill (Jesse Hebison), great-nephews Peter Hebison and Sam Hebison, niece Tiera Claudin, sister-in-law Judy (John) Green, nephew Patrick Green, nieces Laura Green and Kristin Green, Aunts Gladys (Bob) Pfau and Juanita Snell, and cousins. He was preceded in death by his parents and sister Janice Churchill.
A visitation will be held from 1 to 3 PM with a service to follow on Tuesday, August 26 at Memorial Funeral Home in Columbia, MO.
Donations may be made to National Patient Travel Center (provides long-distance medical transportation for patients), Child Fund International, or Memorial Baptist Church, Columbia, MO.
Tributes can be left online at www.memorialfuneralhomeandcemetery.com