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Former Boiler, NASA astronaut passes away

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – A Purdue University alumnus and NASA astronaut has passed away.

Donald Williams was a Lafayette native born in 1942. He graduated from Otterbein High School in 1960 and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue in 1964. He underwent naval training at Purdue and three other states to receive his wings in May 1966.

Williams was selected by NASA in 1978, which was the first class of astronauts chosen to fly a space shuttle. He became an astronaut serving both as a shuttle pilot and mission commander. According to NASA, Williams logged a total of 287 hours and 35 minutes in space.

Williams has an extensive list of awards: the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Defense Superior Service Medal, two Navy Commendation Medals with Combat V, two Navy Unit Commendations, a Meritorious Unit Commendation, the National Defense Medal, and an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. He also received the Vietnam Service Medal (with four stars), a Vietnamese Gallantry Cross (with gold star), and the Vietnam Campaign Medal. At NASA he earned the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, the NASA Space Flight Medal and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.

Williams, who died on Feb. 23, was 74 years old.