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Capt. David C. Leestma, USN, Retired

David C. Leestma


Born on May 6, 1949 in Muskegon, Michigan, Capt. David C. Leestma (USN-Ret.) has logged more than 3,500 hours of flight time, including nearly 1,500 hours in the Navy F-14A, and is a veteran of three space shuttle flights.

After graduating from Tustin High School in California in 1967, Leestma went onto the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated first in the class of 1971 with a degree in aeronautical engineering and a master's degree in science the next year from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.

Leestma earned his gold wings in October of 1973 and made three overseas deployments to the Mediterranean/North Atlantic areas while flying aboard the USS John F. Kennedy. In 1977, he was reassigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Four (VX-4) at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California. As an operational test director with the F-14A, he conducted the first operational testing of new tactical software for the F-14 and completed the follow-on test and evaluation of new F-14A avionics, including the programmable signal processor. He also served as fleet model manager for the F-14A tactical manual.

As a naval aviator, Leestma earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit, Defense Superior Service Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation (VX-4), National Defense Service Medal, Battle "E" Award (VF-32), and the Rear Admiral Thurston James Award (1973).

He joined the NASA astronaut corps in 1980 and logged a total of 532.7 hours in space on three missions. He served as a mission specialist on the STS-41G flight of Challenger in October of 1984, during which he took part in a three and one-half hour space walk to demonstrate the feasibility of satellite refueling.

Leestma was on the crew of Columbia for STS-28 in August of 1989, which carried Department of Defense payloads and a number of secondary payloads for 80 orbits. His final shuttle flight was the nine-day STS-45 aboard Atlantis in 1992.

Leestma has also served in many management roles at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, including Chief of the Mission Development Branch, Deputy Director and Director of Flight Crew Operations, Deputy Chief and Acting Chief of the Astronaut Office, Deputy Director of Engineering, Project Manager for the Space Launch Initiative, Assistant Program Manager for the Orbital Space Plane, Manager of the Exploration Programs Office.

At the time of his enshrinement in the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame in October, 2006, Leestma was in charge of the space center's Advanced Planning office preparing NASA for human missions to the moon and Mars.

His honors since joining the space agency include the NASA Space Flight Medal (1984, 1989, 1992), the NASA Exceptional Service Medal (1985, 1988, 1991, 1992), and the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal (1993, 1994). He was awarded the Presidential Rank of Meritorious Executive in 1998 and again in 2004.

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program