Electrical Engineering – 1960
Charles A. Bassett II was born in Dayton, Ohio, the son of an Air Force colonel. He grew up watching the airplanes take off and forming a dream that would become his life’s work. "I guess I was one of the few lucky people who knew right from the day he was born what he wanted to do and then was able to do it." At the old Cleveland, Ohio, airport, the Berea High School student soloed on his 16th birthday, saying, "Not much to it. These things fly themselves if you just let them." By the time he was 17, he had received his private license, earning the money for lessons by greasing and fueling planes.
Although he began his college education at Ohio State in aeronautical engineering in 1950, Bassett left to become an Air Force pilot in Korea, flying F–86 aircraft in the 8th Bomber Wing. Regretting that he had arrived too late in Korea to fly combat missions, he said, "If you don’t have any challenge, you never know how good you are."
Bassett was to find out just how good he was by continually challenging himself physically and mentally. After Korea, he received the Air Force Commendation ribbon for bravery for moving an F–86 from the path of a burning F–102 armed with missiles. In 1958, he entered Texas Tech under the Air Force Institute of Technology program (AFIT) and graduated in 1960 with high honors in Electrical Engineering. In 1961, he was chosen for the USAF Aerospace Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base where he also graduated with honors for best all-round student and best in academics in 1962. He soon entered the Aerospace Research Pilot School, flying and testing classified aircraft. Determined further to test his abilities, he applied for the Astronaut Program and was chosen in October 1963, becoming one of the third group to complete this rigorous and highly selective program. By the time he left Edwards AFB, he had approximately 3,000 hours of flying time, including 2,100 hours in jets.
Captain Bassett and Command Pilot Eliot M. See, Jr., were the GEMINI IX Prime Crew, scheduled for a two– to three–day rendezvous and docking mission. Bassett was preparing for a 90–minute space walk, using a new maneuvering backpack unit to propel himself through space. The two men wrote of their upcoming space flights for the 1966 World Book Encyclopedia. Bassett began his article with an understatement that expressed his high expectations for himself and his pride in the upcoming mission: "I haven’t done much with my life yet, but someday I’ll orbit the Earth."
Shortly before the mission, on February 28, 1966, he and See were killed in the crash of a T–38 jet in St. Louis, Missouri. He was survived by his wife, Jean Martin, and his children Peter and Karen. Jean Bassett Robinson now lives in Lubbock; Peter M. Bassett is a resident of New York City; and Karen Bassett is a resident of Portland, Oregon.
A man who believed strongly in education, he wrote that "It’s worth 33 years of school to get a chance to go to the moon." Texas Tech University is proud to have been an important part in his education and to be able to share the inspiration of his life with future graduates by naming him DISTINGUISHED ENGINEER.