SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Launch has us checking some of South Dakota’s connections to space missions.
Scotland-native Chuck Gemar is the first astronaut born in the state. Gemar flew on three space shuttle missions in the 90s and KELOLAND TV was there.
Chuck Gemar was selected for the astronaut program in 1985. The helicopter pilot who graduated from West Point was excited about the opportunity.
“And I always thought that there’s not a chance in the world that something like that could ever happen to somebody from Scotland, SD. I found out differently in the last month,” Gemar said.
His first mission took place in November of 1990 as part of the crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis.
“South Dakota is making history tonight with the takeoff of the Space Shuttle Atlantis,” KELO-TV Anchor Steve Hemmingsen said.
KELOLAND TV had a crew at the Kennedy Space Center for the event.
Reporter Jessica Armstrong spent the week with Gemar’s family before the launch.
The family and Armstrong had a front row seat for liftoff.
“It was a beautiful sight. The ground shook. The sky lit up almost as though there was daylight as the shuttle lifted. It was beautiful. There were lots of oohs and ahhs,” Armstrong said.
Gemar and Atlantis would return to earth a few days later to cheers at the Kennedy Space Center.
Gemar didn’t stop there. His NASA career took him back to space in 1991 and 1994. This is what he had to say to students at a local camp in Brookings in 1993.
“Keep your focus. Don’t be afraid to dedicate the time and resources it takes to do a job and do it well,” Gemar said.
Gemar retired from NASA in 1998 but he’ll always be remembered for putting South Dakota on the map from outer space.
“Don’t let anybody close any doors. Continue to knock on the doors. Don’t stop at the first closed door,” Gemar said.
Gemar logged more than 500 hours in space during his NASA career.