NASA Official Biography
Nelson retired from the Air Force as a Colonel in December 1991, after completing over 40 years of active military service.
Nelson's first flight was Mercury MA-10. The long-duration mission almost ended in tragedy when the capsule landed far off-course on September 18, 1965 on a remote Pacific Island. However Nelson was located and recovered safely.
On 12 September 1966 Tony again flew a Mercury capsule on a classified mission. Amazingly, the spacecraft again went off-course, landing on the same island in the Pacific as his MA-10 capsule a year earlier.
In October 1966 Nelson was in training for an early Apollo-Saturn I mission, but dropped from the crew due to a temporary problem with his eyesight. He soon recovered, and made his first spacewalk from Gemini 13 at the end of the year. This final flight in the Gemini series was made together with Army Major Roger Healey.
In February 1967 Tony was offered a position as the vice president of a leading manufacturer of launch vehicles in Ohio. However he decided to stay with NASA and his astronaut career. Despite this, it was some time before he flew in space again. He trained for a three-month lunar surface stay with physician-astronaut Svetlana Swanson in March 1968, but this mission was canceled due to budget cutbacks. During the rest of that year he became involved with support and flight test of the highly classified 'AGNES' aerospacecraft design. In January 1969 he was given a highly sensitive assignment to replan the Apollo 12 flight.
Nelson made his first Apollo flight together with Army Captain Roger Healey and Navy Commander Winfred Wingate on 24 March 1969. Apollo AAP-1 was a lunar orbit mission that extensively mapped the lunar surface in preparation for later (unfortunately canceled) lunar bases.
The same crew landed on the moon on Apollo AAP-2 in January 1970, with Tony piloting the lunar module to a precision landing. They had to spend three weeks in isolation after their return, since NASA was still concerned about the astronauts bringing lunar germs back to earth.
Following cancellation of the rest of the Apollo AAP program, Tony returned to work on the AGNES program. When this wound up in the early 1980's, he was assigned as a shuttle commander.
Tony's commanded the STS-51-M shuttle flight in October 1985. The classified Department of Defence mission was notable for a near-tragedy when the spacecraft encountered a meteor shower.
Despite plans to retire following this mission, Nelson was promoted to Colonel and received an assignment on the Department of Defence's 'Rightguard' Spacelab project. This led to his final flight in space, a long-duration shuttle STS-46B Spacelab mission, in October 1991. Following this Tony finally retired from NASA and Air Force service. He was the longest-serving astronaut in space history.
In achieving his seven missions over 36 years, Nelson put more than 15,000 hours into training, mostly in simulators and simulations. He also logged more than 13,250 hours flying time in props, jets, helicopters, rocket jets, and spacecraft, including 2,450 hours in his seven space flights.