Born and raised in South Carolina, Frank Culbertson earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the United States Naval Academy in 1971. After serving aboard the USS Fox (DLG-33) off the coast of Vietnam, he began flight training in 1972, receiving his wings as a Naval Aviator in 1973. He spent the next 11 years logging over 450 successful carrier landings aboard various ships, graduating with distinction from the US Naval Test Pilot School, and eventually accumulating over 8900 hours in 60 different types of aircraft. He remains an active pilot.
Culbertson was selected for the astronaut training program in 1984, beginning his training in Houston, and supporting various shuttle missions on the ground. In 1986, he reported to Washington DC where he worked with NASA, the Presidential Commission, and the U.S. Congress on the Challenger accident investigation. He went on to serve as the lead astronaut at the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (SAIL) and lead CAPCOM for seven missions.
Culbertson’s turn in space came in 1990 when he flew aboard Atlantis on STS-38. The five-day mission conducted Department of Defense operations and was the first shuttle to land in Florida since 1985. His second mission came in 1993 as Commander of Discovery on STS-51. The crew successfully deployed two satellites, then retrieved one of them, and conducted an EVA to evaluate Hubble Satellite repair tools, ending the mission with the first night landing at Kennedy Space Center.
Between 1994 and 1998 Frank served as Manager of the Shuttle-Mir Program, as a part of Phase One of the International Space Station, negotiating directly with the Russian Space Agency. He oversaw nine Shuttle docking missions to the Russian Space Station Mir, and the operations of seven US astronauts, who spent over 30 cumulative months on the Russian station. Culbertson received a Rotary Stellar Award in 1997 for his leadership. Returning to flight status, Culbertson served as commander of the ISS during his third and final mission in 2001 launching aboard Discovery on STS-105. Frank’s watched the terrible events of September 11, 2001, unfold from his orbit 254 miles above New York City and Washington. He poignantly remarked in a letter dated September 13 “It’s horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point.” The crew spent 129 days living and working on the ISS.
Frank retired from NASA in 2002 and went on to serve as Senior Vice-President for SAIC in Houston and later as a Senior Vice-President for Orbital Sciences, eventually becoming President of the Space Systems Group, serving through two mergers, first with ATK, then with Northrop Grumman.
Culbertson has received numerous awards, including the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, NASA Space Flight Medals, the Gagarin Gold Medal, and the Navy and Air Force Commendation Medals. He is an inductee in the US Astronaut Hall of Fame and the South Carolina Aviation Hall of Fame.
Frank is recently retired and residing in Leesburg, VA.