Astronaut, astronomer Samuel Durrance dies at age 79

 May 7, 2023

Sad news emerged from the world of science and space exploration this week when it was revealed that astronomer and astronaut Samuel Durrance died Friday at the age of 79, as Collect Space reports.

Durrance was known as one of the first non-career astronauts to travel to space following the Challenger shuttle disaster and was heralded for his work on the Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope.

Dementia battle, fall claim astronaut

As Collect Space noted, Durrance died due to complications from a fall, though he had struggled for many years with both Parkinson's Disease and dementia.

According to family members, Durrance spent the last days of his life in a Viera, Florida hospice facility and died “quietly” and “surrounded by family.”

The family further noted that as “a true scientist to the end and beyond, Sam asked that his body be donated to support the ongoing medical research associated with astronauts who have flown in space.”

A memorial service will reportedly be held in Melbourne, Florida at a later date, according to a Facebook post from the Astro Restoration Project, a volunteer-led effort to preserve hardware designed by Durrance and used during space flights.

Astronomer, NASA payload specialist

Though an astronomer by training, Durrance was selected for a role as a payload specialist as a result of his role in the development for the Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope.

That instrument had originally been slated for launch with the space shuttle Columbia in March of 1986, though that mission was subsequently delayed by the space shuttle Challenger disaster, which occurred in January of that year.

Finally heading to space in December of 1990, Durrance spent almost nine days in orbit engaged in continuous observation work with the Astro-1 telescopes affixed to the shuttle's payload bay.

In March of 1995, Durrance lifted off for space once more to facilitate the capture of astronomical data with a group of three Astro-2 telescopes that he helped develop.

Prolific career remembered

Born in Florida in 1943, Durrance ultimately earned bachelor's and master's degrees in physics from California State University and went on to receive an astrogeophysics doctorate from the University of Colorado at Boulder, according to the AmericaSpace website.

Durrance went on to accept a research role at Johns Hopkins University, where he was instrumental in the design, production, and integration of the aforementioned telescopes that were ultimately taken to space.

Following his forays into space flight, Durrance worked in a science and technology capacity for Final Analysis, Inc., and went on to a professorial role at the Florida Institute of Technology.

Though his passing certainly marks the end of an impressive era in astronomical research and space exploration, Durrance's family, which includes wife Rebecca and children Ben and Susan, declared, “We are comforted to know Sam is in heaven with his savior, Jesus Christ, and very much appreciate everyone's love and prayers during this difficult time.”

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