Selected by NASA in January 1990, Cockrell became an astronaut in July 1991. He is qualified for assignment as a pilot on future Space Shuttle flight crews. His technical assignments to date include: duties in the Astronaut Office Operations Development Branch, working on landing, rollout, tires and brakes issues; CAPCOM in Mission Control for ascent and entry; Astronaut Office representative for Flight Data File, the numerous books of procedures carried aboard Shuttle flights. He served as Assistant to the Chief of the Astronaut Office for Shuttle operations and hardware, and has served as Chief of the Astronaut Office Operations Development Branch. A veteran of three space flights, he has logged over 906 hours in space. He flew on STS-56 in 1993, STS-69 in 1995, and STS-80 in 1996. Cockrell is currently acting Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office.
Cockrell flew as a mission specialist on the crew of STS-56, carrying ATLAS-2. During the nine-day mission the crew of Discovery conducted atmospheric and solar studies in order to better understand the effect of solar activity on the Earth's climate and environment. STS-56 launched April 8, 1993, and landed April 17, 1993. Mission duration was 9 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes, 21 seconds.
Cockrell next served as pilot on STS-69, September 7-18, 1995. The primary objective of the mission was the successful deployment and retrieval of a SPARTAN satellite and the Wake Shield Facility (WSF). The WSF is designed to evaluate the effectiveness of using this free-flying experiment to grow semiconductors, high temperature superconductors and other materials using the ultra-high vacuum created behind the spacecraft near the experiment package. Mission duration was 10 days, 20 hours, 28 minutes.
Most recently, Cockrell commanded the STS-80 mission (November 19 to December 7, 1996) aboard Columbia. During the flight the crew deployed and retrieved the Wake Shield Facility (WSF) and the Orbiting Retrievable Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrometer (ORFEUS) satellites. The WSF is designed to fly free of the Shuttle, creating a super vacuum in its wake in which to grow thin film wafers for use in semiconductors and other high-tech electrical components. The ORFEUS instruments, mounted on the reusable Shuttle Pallet Satellite, will study the origin and makeup of stars. Mission duration was a record breaking 17 days, 15 hours, 53 minutes.
Manned five crew. Carried Atlas-2; deployed and retrieved Spartan 201. Payloads: Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science (ATLAS) 2, Shuttle Solar Backscat-ter Ultraviolet (SSBUV) A, Shuttle Pointed Autonomous Research Tool for Astronomy (SPARTAN) 201 (Solar Wind Generation Experi-ment), Solar Ultraviolet Experiment (SUVE), Commercial Material Dispersion Apparatus (CMIX), Physiological and Anatomical Rodent Experiment (PARE), Hand-held, Earth-oriented, Real-time, Cooperative, User-friendly, Location-targeting, and Environmental System (HER-CULES), Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment (SAREX) II, Space Tissue Loss (STL), Air Force Maui Optical Site (AMOS), Cosmic Radiation Effects and Activation Monitor (CREAM), Radiation Monitoring Equipment (RME) III.
Deployed and retrieved Spartan 201, WSF 2. Payloads: Wake Shield Facility (WSF) 2; Shuttle Pointed Autonomous Research Tool for As-tronomy (SPARTAN) 201; International Extreme Ultraviolet Hitchhiker (IEH)1; Inter-Mars Tissue Equivalent Proportional Counter (ITEPC); Extravehicular Activity Development Flight Test (EDFT) 2; Capillary Pumped Loop (CAPL) 2/ getaway special (GAS) bridge assembly with five GAS payloads; Auroral Photography Experiment (APE) B; Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC); Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (CGBA), Configuration A; Electrolysis Perfor-mance Improvement Concept Study (EPICS); Space Tissue Loss (STL)/National Institutes of Health (NIH) Cells (C); Commercial Middeck Instrumentation Technology Associates Experiment (CMIX).
Mission STS-80 carried the Orfeus astronomy satellite, the Wake Shield Facility, and spacewalk equipment. The Orfeus satellite was deployed on November 20. It carried an ultraviolet telescope and spectrographs. Wake Shield Facility was deployed on November 22 and retrieved on November 26 . On 1996 Nov 29, crewmembers Tamara Jernigan and Thomas Jones were to conduct the first of several planned EVAs. However the shuttle's exit hatch would not open and NASA cancelled this and the other planned spacewalks of the mission. On December 4 at the astronauts retrieved the Orfeus satellite using the RMS arm. Reentry attempts on Dec 5 and Dec 6 were called off due to bad weather. Columbia finally landed at 11:49 GMT December 7 on Runway 33 at Kennedy Space Center, making STS-80 the longest shuttle mission to that date .
International Space Station assembly mission; delivered the Destiny and PMA-2 modules. The shuttle orbiter was placed in an initial 74 x 323 km x 51.6 deg orbit. At 2357 GMT the OMS engines fired for the OMS-2 burn which raised Atlantis' orbit to 204 x 322 km x 51.6 deg. Atlantis docked with the Station at 1651 GMT on February 9 at the PMA-3 port on Unity's nadir. At 1500 GMT on Feb 10 Marsha Ivins used the RMS arm to unberth the PMA-2 docking port from Unity. Tom Jones and Bob Curbeam then conducted three spacewalks on Februay 10 to 14 to attach the Destiny and PMA-2 modules to the station. Atlantis undocked from Alpha at 1406 GMT on February 16. Atlantis landed at Edwards AFB on February 20; plans to land on February 18 and 19 were called off due to bad weather at Kennedy Space Center. The deorbit burn was at 1927 GMT and lowered the orbit from 370 x 386 km to about 50 x 380 km. The nominal entry interface at 122 km came at 2002 GMT and touchdown on runway 22 was at 20:33 GMT. On March 1 Atlantis was flown on the back of NASA's SCA 911 carrier aircraft to Altus AFB, Oklahoma, en route to Kennedy.