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2 ASTRONAUTS GROUNDED FOR `RISKY FLYING’

SHARE 2 ASTRONAUTS GROUNDED FOR `RISKY FLYING’

Two veteran astronauts, heirs to a daredevil tradition, were grounded by NASA for risky flying after one was involved in a fatal crash and another flew too close to an airliner.

Navy Cmdr. Robert L. "Hoot" Gibson and Navy Capt. David M. Walker, both shuttle commanders, were disciplined Monday for violating Johnson Space Center flight crew guidelines."This is the first time we have removed crew members from flights for disciplinary reasons," said NASA spokesman Jeff Carr.

One space expert said the pair may just have had too much of the right stuff.

"It's a special breed of man who wants to climb to the top of the heap in the most dangerous profession there is," said Lloyd Swenson, a space history expert at the University of Houston.

Swenson said astronauts realize "working with high-performance aircrafts in a test capacity is putting the human body as well as the human mind at risk. Unfortunately, sometimes those people who like to do those tests make an error in judgment."

Gibson, 43, was pulled from shuttle flight assignments and barred for a year from making T-38 jet trainer flights for violating a policy that restricts high-risk recreational activities for astronauts named to flight crews, Carr said.

The move followed a weekend air show race near New Braunfels, Texas, in which Gibson's stunt plane collided with another stunt plane, sending the other pilot hurtling to his death in a corn field. Gibson landed his plane safely.

Walker, 46, was suspended for 60 days for infractions that included an incident last year in which the T-38 he was flying came within 100 feet of a Pan Am jetliner in a near-collision outside Washington, Carr said.

Gibson had piloted an eight-day Challenger mission in 1984 and commanded a 1986 Columbia mission and a 1988 Atlantis mission.

Walker piloted a shuttle flight in 1984 and was commander of Atlantis during a four-day flight in 1989.

Walker did not return a call Monday. Gibson has an unlisted number.

Air Force Col. Frederick D. Gregory will replace Walker as crew commander on that next year's Pentagon shuttle flight, Carr said.

Gibson, widely regarded as one of the shuttle program's most skilled fliers, was scheduled to command a fourth mission late next year. NASA did not immediately name a replacement.