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David C. Leestma papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 193
The David C. Leestma papers (1969-2014; 31.4 cubic feet) document his personal experience as an astronaut during the early years of the Space Shuttle program and as a NASA manager and director. Included are papers related to the three missions for which he served as a mission specialist; STS-41-G, STS-28, and STS-45.

Leestma later served as manager and director at the Johnson Space Center’s Astronaut Office, Flight Crew Operations Directorate, Advanced Planning Office and for initiatives such as the Space Launch Initiative and the Orbital Space Plane program. The papers include writings related to cooperative efforts with Russia and Russian cosmonauts, the International Space Station, and the implementation of various programs and policies from 1980-2014.

Also contained in the papers is an extensive collection of personal daily work journals and log books that follow the path of his career and provide a glimpse into the daily life of an astronaut and NASA manager, including Leestma’s time in space. Other highlights include Russian and U.S. astronaut training documents, and a collection of John W. Young technical memos.

Types of materials include audio-visual materials, awards, books, briefings, correspondence, documents, experiment results, journals (diaries), log-books, memos, NASA mission reports, an oral history, papers, photographs, publications, QSL cards (ham radio), and reports.


  • 1969 - 2014
  • Majority of material found within 1982 - 1998
  • Other: Date acquired: 09/07/2015


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. A portion of Leestma’s personnel papers have been restricted due to privacy consideration.

Conditions Governing Use

Purdue University per deed of gift.


27.932 Cubic Feet (Sixty-four letter-size full-width manuscript boxes, four cubic feet boxes, four flat boxes, one small artifact box, and an unboxed artifact)


Papers, awards, and audio visual material related to Leestma’s time as an astronaut. This collection includes personal papers from STS-28, STS-41G, STS-45, and STS-95, including his personal journals from 1981-2014.

Biographical or Historical Information

David C. Leestma was born May 6, 1949, in Muskegon, Michigan to Dr. and Mrs. Harold F. Leestma. He graduated from Tustin High School, Tustin, California, in 1967; received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the United States Naval Academy in 1971, and a Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1972. Leestma graduated first in his class from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1971. As a first lieutenant, he was assigned to USS Hepburn (DE-1055) in Long Beach, California, before reporting in January 1972 to the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. He completed flight training and received his wings in October 1973. He was assigned to VF-124 in San Diego, California, for initial flight training in the F-14A Tomcat and then transferred to VF-32 in June 1974 and was stationed at Virginia Beach, Virginia. Leestma made three overseas deployments to the Mediterranean/North Atlantic areas while flying aboard the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67). In 1977, he was reassigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Four (VX-4) at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California. As an operational test director with the F-14A, he conducted the first operational testing of new tactical software for the F-14 and completed the follow-on test and evaluation of new F-14A avionics, including the programmable signal processor. He also served as fleet model manager for the F-14A tactical manual. He has logged more than 3,500 hours of flight time, including nearly 1,500 hours in the F-14A. Leestma was selected to become an astronaut in 1980. His space flight experience included STS-41G launched October 5, 1984, STS-28 Launched August 8, 1989, and STS-45 launched on March 24, 1992. Leestma also he served as a Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) for STS-51C through STS-61A. He was then assigned as the Chief, Mission Development Branch responsible for assessing the operational integration requirements of payloads that will fly aboard the shuttle. From February 1990 to September 1991, when he started training for his third space mission, Leestma served as Deputy Director of Flight Crew Operations. Following this flight, he served as Deputy Chief and acting Chief of the Astronaut Office. Leestma was selected as the Director, Flight Crew Operations Directorate (FCOD) in November 1992. As Director, FCOD, he had overall responsibility for the Astronaut Office and for Johnson Space Center (JSC) Aircraft Operations. During his tenure as Director, 41 shuttle flights and seven Mir missions were successfully flown. He was responsible for the selection of Astronaut Groups 15, 16 and 17. While Director, he oversaw the requirements, development modifications of the T-38A transition to the T-38N avionics upgrades. In September 1998, Leestma was reassigned as the Deputy Director, Engineering, in charge of the management of JSC Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) Projects. In August 2001, he was assigned as the Johnson Space Center Project Manager for the Space Launch Initiative, responsible for all JSC work related to the development of the new launch system. Leestma also served as the Assistant Program Manager for the Orbital Space Plane, responsible for the vehicle systems and operations of a new crewed vehicle that served as the transfer vehicle for space flight crews to and from the International Space Station. He then served as the Manager, JSC Exploration Programs Office, responsible for JSC's role in the future exploration programs that were to fulfill the President's vision for exploration. Leestma then took charge of the JSC Advanced Planning Office, which helped to plan JSC's strategy to be fully ready for the challenges of the future, including leading the human missions to the moon and Mars. His latest assignment was to lead JSC's Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office, providing the opportunity for NASA developed technologies to move into the commercial arena. A veteran of three space flights, Leestma logged a total of 532.7 hours in space. He served as a mission specialist on STS-41G (October 5-13, 1984), STS-28 (August 8-13, 1989), and STS-45 (March 24 to April 2, 1992). Leestma retired from NASA on May 30, 2014.

Note written by Mary Sego / NASA biographical material

Arrangement Note

The papers are organized into 8 series:

Series 1. Navy Career, circa 1971-1990s (0.90 cubic feet). This series includes a file marked "Navy Stuff," which includes Naval postgraduate school grades, quizzes, appointments, evaluations, and certificates. Also included is a Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization NATOPS Flight Personnel Training/Qualification Jacket, two flight logs, and flight activity reports. Lastly the series contains promotion certificates and related correspondence, Leestma’s application for the Astronaut Candidate Selection Program, dated October 25, 1979, along with his Astronaut candidate notification letter, supporting memos, documents, photographs, and itinerary for NASA Johnson Space Center interview and visit, May 1980. One can also find items from the latter part of his Navy career; discharge papers, award certification documents, and miscellaneous documents. Materials in the series were retained as found in the original files. Some items are currently marked as restricted, due to Social Security numbers on documents, and one must consult the archivist before use.

Series 2. Astronaut Training, 1969-1990s (0.20 cubic feet). This series mainly consists of “Payload Specialist Training,” material, circa 1983-1997. Little training information can be found among the papers.

Series 3. Daily Work Journals and Log Books, 1981-2014 (6.0 cubic feet). Found within this series are Leestma’s personal journals and log books compiled during his time at NASA, both as an astronaut and as a part of the administrative staff. The journals are arranged chronologically and follow the path of his career. They provide a glimpse into the daily life of an astronaut, including time in space, and a manager. The later journals include two titled, “NASA 5-Point Plan for the Future,” and "Proposal for Investment of Silicon Valley in Space."

Series 4. NASA Missions, 1983-1995 (4.8 cubic feet). This series covers the three missions for which Leestma served as a mission specialist; STS-41-G, STS-28, and STS-45, and it is broken into subseries to represent each mission.

Included are flight crew briefings, reports, memos, documents, numerous papers, Medical Detailed Supplementary Objectives (DSOs), experiment results, debriefing information, and other related mission preparation and post-flight documents.

STS-45 includes an extensive collection of SAREX (Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment) Amateur Radio QSL cards, letters and audio cassettes received as a result of radio contact with crew during the mission.

Series 5. NASA Administration, circa 1970s-2014 (8.8 cubic feet). This series is broken down into six sub-series representing the various NASA Administrative positions Leestma held throughout his career. There are numerous NASA memos, correspondence, documents, reports, briefings, International Space Station planning information; Preliminary Assessments of the Russian/US/International Partners Space Station Design Option; Flight Crew Operations documents; Safety Review Findings; Hubble Space Telescope documents, among many others. Please see the breakdown of each sub-series within the finding aid in order to see the comprehensive listing.

*Note many additional memos, documents, etc. are interspersed among the NASA Administration papers, due to the interconnectivity of departments. The papers were left in original order in most instances. Timeline of Leestma’s NASA Administrative Positions:

Subseries 1. Chief, Mission Development Branch, February 1990–September 1991. Subseries 2. Deputy Chief and Acting Chief of Astronaut Office, April 1992-November 1992

Subseries 3. Director, Flight Crew Operations Directorate, November 1992-September 1998

Subseries 4. Deputy Director, Engineering, September 1998 – August 2001.

Subseries 5. Johnson Space Center Project Manager for the Space Launch Initiative, August 2001 – 2014.

Subseries 6. Manager, Johnson Space Center Exploration Planning Office and Johnson Space Center Advanced Planning Office, -2014

Series 6. Audio Visual, 1973-2000s (5.7 cubic feet). The Audio Visual series is comprised of VHS tapes, which cover STS-41G, STS-28, STS-45 and STS-48 press conferences, mission highlights, and aurora views. Also included is Leestma’s contributions to the NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project, 2003 (includes the transcript, VHS tape and 2 audio cassettes). Please see the detailed listing for a few other segments on VHS.

The films cover STS-41G, STS-28, and STS-45 crew presentations and press conferences. Found on the numerous slides are Enterprise and Shuttle tests, STS-28 “Earth Observation Debriefing,” and STS-41G, STS-45, STS-76, and Shuttle/Mir 21NM21 shots.

Lastly the photographs cover shots from Leestma’s Navy days, official NASA photographs and additional photographs of him, circa 1984-1990s. There are also STS-61-E crew photographs, STS-41G, STS-28 photos of Earth, and “APE,” Auroral Photography Experiment photographs. In the final folders there are miscellaneous photographs of colleagues, and some are signed.

Series 7. Publications, 1991-2009 (0.5 cubic feet). Contained in this series are monographs that were given to Leestma by the author and are signed and inscribed to him. Also found here are newspaper articles about Leestma from the latter part of his career, and most are about his part in selecting the Columbia crew that tragically lost their lives during the final moments of STS-107, the 113thth flight of the Space Shuttle Program.

Series 8. Artifacts, 1979-2014 (4.5 cubic feet). The artifacts series is comprised of the many awards, certificates, plaques, NASA service awards and tokens of appreciation presented to Leestma throughout his career. The awards range from one of his first; a plaque presented, “To Lt. Dave “Wiz” Leestma for Achieving 1000 Hours in the F-14 Tomcat,” a Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, NASA Exceptional Service Medal, NASA Space Flight Medal, Certificate and Medallion – 1st

Source of Acquisition

Donated by David C. Leestma, 2014.

Existence and Location of Originals

multi-part note content

Related Materials

Roy D. Bridges Jr. papers: [url=][/url] Mary A. Cleave papers: [url=][/url] Mark K. Craig papers: [url=][/url] Jerry L. Ross papers: [url=][/url] Janice Voss papers: [url=][/url] Paul J. Weitz papers: [url=][/url]

Processing Information

Whenever possible, original order of the materials has been retained. All materials have been housed in acid-free folders and acid-free boxes
David C. Leestma papers
Mary A. Sego
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 W. State Street
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States