Before U.S. Navy Commander William McCool began his 16-day scientific mission, he explained what was most important about the work he would be doing in space.
“Most of what we’re doing is enabling technology for the future,” he said. “And the folks who are going to use that technology and then continue the wheels turning are the children today. There’s no greater experience, at least in my career thus far, than to see the excitement and the eyes light up when you talk to kids about experiments.”
McCool was born in San Diego, Calif., in 1961. After graduating from Coronado High School, Lubbock, Texas, in 1979, McCool went to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. He graduated in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in applied science, and then, went on to earn a master’s degree in computer science in 1985 from the University of Maryland, and a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1992.
In 1986, McCool began his flying career with the Navy. He flew 24 different aircraft, including the EA-6B Prowler, and had more than 400 carrier landings. He became a test pilot in 1992. The pilot served on two aircraft carriers, the USS Coral Sea and the USS Enterprise, and had more than 2,800 hours of flight time.
McCool became an astronaut candidate and reported to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in 1996. McCool said his experiences in the Navy helped with his transition to NASA.
“We operate as a crew in the same way as we did back in my Navy days in the EA-6B Prowler,” he said. “The Astronaut Office, the folks here at JSC, operate in the same fashion that we had learned to operate as a team within the squadron and within the air wing. So I think [they] dovetail quite well.”
While at NASA, McCool gained the respect of his peers. According to Astronaut Office Chief Kent Rominger, McCool was a talented astronaut and was known for his respect for others.
“Willie was incredibly humble, with exceptional talents,” Rominger said. “He was especially gifted at quickly learning and mastering technical information, but was also known for his tremendous consideration for others. He enjoyed surprising people with flowers and Hawaiian leis.”