Log in

Log in

James Buchli: A North Dakota First

November 08, 2020 07:30 | Anonymous

Former NASA Astronaut, James Buchli, frequently returns as a speaker for University of North Dakota space studies students and faculty. (NASA archival photograph) 

By Penny Rafferty Hamilton, Ph.D. 

North Dakota has always propelled sky and space “stars” to stellar careers. Born in New Rockford, ND, James F. Buchli is an excellent example of accomplishments in aviation and aerospace. In 1963, as Buchli graduated from Fargo Central High School, KVLY broadcast the international news of Soviet Cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, becoming the world’s first women in space. KQWB radio blasted out the Beach Boys, “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and The Cascades singing “Rhythm of the Rain.” 

That summer, Buchli left his beloved North Dakota for the U.S. Naval Academy. By 1967, he earned his Aeronautical Engineering degree and was commissioned as an officer in the United States Marine Corps. After some additional training, the Republic of Vietnam was his duty for a year as a Platoon Commander, then Executive Officer, and later Company Commander. Buchli is proof that North Dakota creates natural leaders. 

By 1969, he landed for Naval Flight Officer training, earning his gold wings. Following that, he was stationed at Marine Corps Air Stations and missions in support of Vietnam War operations. In 1977, the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School became his new duty assignment. Over the years, Buchli logged over 4,200 hours of flight time: 4,000 in jet aircraft, including combat in the F-4 Phantom II. Along the way, he earned significant military awards and a Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering Systems. 

In 1979, Buchli was selected to become a NASA astronaut, becoming North Dakota’s first native-born astronaut. Now a full-fledged American “Space Star”, he is a veteran of four space flights and has orbited the earth 319 times, traveling 7.74 million miles in 20 days, ten hours, 25 minutes and 32 seconds. His space missions included STS-51-C flying on the Space Shuttle Discovery. In 1985, he launched on STS-61-A with the Space Shuttle Challenger. In 1989, STS-29, he flew on Discovery. In 1991, he was again on the Discovery mission STS-48, which provided critical data for future NASA missions. He served in the NASA Astronaut Office as Manager of Space Station Systems Operations and later was promoted to Deputy Chief. 

In 1992, Colonel Buchli retired from the Marine Corps and NASA, but continued his contributions to our space efforts with several leadership positions at Boeing Defense and Space Group. In 2019, North Dakota’s James Buchli was inducted into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame. 

Quoted in a February 3, 2019, Valley News Live story about this most recent honor, Colonel Buchli said, “Being from North Dakota, that’s a hard one. You kind of go, ‘aw shucks’ and look at your feet. Being part of that group in my mind is humbling and very special. Whether or not I’ve done as much as others or could have done more, it doesn’t matter at this point...

“...What matters is along the way I’ve done my best to contribute to our space effort.”

Isn’t that just like someone from the great state of North Dakota? 

Author Note: Dr. Hamilton’s latest print and eBook, Inspiring Words For Sky and Space Women, is scheduled for November publication. Learn more at 

Copyright © 2021 North Dakota Aviation Association

North Dakota Aviation Association

PO Box 627
Bismarck, ND 58502

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software