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est. 2005
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Wubbo Ockels


Sometimes they do die in threes.

When Wubbo Ockels died of a rare kidney cancer on May 18, no one could have predicted—at least, none of us did—that two fellow crew members from his one and only space flight would follow him in death within three months: commander Hank Hartsfield on July 17 and pilot Steven Nagel on August 21.

Lest you read anything conspiratorial into this, bear in mind that while Nagel coincidentally died of cancer, Hartsfield's death was attributed to complications from back surgery. (Wait a minute—isn't your back . . . where your kidneys are . . . ?)

Ockels wasn't the first Dutchman to fly in space—that distinction belongs to naturalized American Lodewijk van den Berg—although he was the first Dutch citizen. An accomplished physicist, he was selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 1978 as one of three European payload specialists (basically, guys who conduct scientific experiments) to train for Spacelab 1, a joint mission of ESA and NASA.

After serving in backup and communication roles for the first few Spacelabs, he finally made it to the show in 1985 as part of the eight-member crew—still the largest ever for a space shot from launch to landing—of the West German Spacelab D-1 mission, the first whose payload activities were directed from outside the U.S., aboard the space shuttle Challenger.

Two months later, 73 seconds into its next scheduled flight, Challenger blew up, proving that sometimes they die in sevens. New safety rules established that as the maximum acceptable amount of carnage, costing Ockels a seat on future missions.

At least he lived long enough to be nominated for Deadspin's 2014 Name of the Year tournament, although he was sent packing in the first round by eventual winner Shamus Beaglehole. Perhaps countryman Wubbo Velvis will one day boldly go where no Dutchman has gone before.

--Gerard Tierney

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