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Veteran shuttle commander retires

NASA astronaut James Wetherbee arrives at Kennedy Space Center for the launch of a November 2002 shuttle mission — his final spaceflight.
NASA astronaut James Wetherbee arrives at Kennedy Space Center for the launch of a November 2002 shuttle mission — his final spaceflight.NASA file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The only U.S. astronaut to command five spaceflights has retired to pursue other interests, NASA announced Tuesday.

James Wetherbee, 52, flew aboard the space shuttle six times and most recently worked at the Johnson Space Center in Houston with a technical authority that identifies and analyzes possible hazards, and determines launch readiness.

The authority was created after the Columbia shuttle broke apart in February 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

“His engineering sense and relentless attention to detail were critical to the success of all of his space missions,” Ken Bowersox, director of flight crew operations at Johnson Space Center, said in a statement.

Wetherbee, who declined to comment on the announcement Tuesday, became an astronaut in 1984. He retired from the agency Jan. 3.

His space missions included a docking mission to the Russian Mir space station and two flights to the international space station.