WINONA – A celebration was held this past Saturday to honor the life and legacy of the late Colonel Donald Peterson, an American Astronaut.
A Winona native, Peterson was a mission specialist on the STS-6 on board Challenger, which launched from Kennedy Space Center on April 4, 1983. During the mission, Peterson and a fellow crew member conducted a spacewalk to test the new suite, the Shuttle Airlock, and tools and techniques for construction and repair outside a spacecraft.
With the completion of this flight, Peterson logged four hours and 15 minutes in extravehicular activity and a total of 120 hours in space.
For five days and 23 minutes, Peterson traveled at 18,000 miles an hour, orbiting the earth. The mission of the voyage was to launch tracking and data relay satellites which provide communications between objects in orbit and those on the ground. In the process, he got to do a spacewalk to test the team’s ability to repair the shuttle while it orbited 170 miles above the earth.
Peterson was one of two astronauts from the mission to walk in space from a space shuttle for the first time in the Space Program, paving the way for future missions.
Peterson passed away on May 27, 2018, at his home in Texas.
Honored guests, the Peterson family, and members of the community braved the rain to enjoy a brunch reception sponsored by the Winona Christian School Parent Teacher Organization and held in the Winona Christian gymnasium prior to a special program held in the Winona Secondary School auditorium.
Bill Lee, a military historian and keynote speaker at the event, told Saturday’s crowd, “A chance encounter in downtown Winona led to Congressman Thomas Abernethy’s appointment of Donald Peterson to the United States Military Academy at West Point. That encounter led to Peterson’s career as an astronaut.”
Senator Lydia Chassaniol (R-Winona) said that Peterson’s accomplishments “made our community proud.”
“To me, [Peterson’s] greatest accomplishments was not to give up, not to give in,” Chassaniol said. “He truly is a hometown hero.”
Donald Peterson, Jr., spoke to Saturday’s crowd about Peterson as a father and a role model to his three children.
“Dad had a ‘never give up’ mentality,” his son said. “He would never have given up [on his mission on board the Challenger]. We all knew what the risks were.”
Peterson, Jr., said he had fond memories of spending holidays in Winona with his grandparents. He said his father always considered Winona his home, even after living in Houston for more than 50 years.
“At the end of his life, he spoke about going home to Winona,” Peterson, Jr., said. “After his death, he was cremated, and this week, we spread his ashes [in Oakwood Cemetery] next to his mom and dad. Dad, you are home.”
Plans to erect a bronze structure in Peterson’s memory are currently underway, according to Representative Karl Oliver (R-Winona).
“This will be a beautifully constructed educational memorial,” Oliver said, adding that a bank account has been set up at Bank of Winona for anyone who wants to make a contribution to the memorial.