Biography of Gregory Jarvis, Challenger Astronaut

Official portrait Gregory Jarvis
Official portrait Gregory Jarvis STS 51-L payload specialist.


Gregory Bruce Jarvis was an American astronaut who brought an extensive background as an engineer to his work with NASA. He died in the Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986, on his first and only trip to space.

Fast Facts: Gregory Jarvis

  • Born: August 24, 1944 in Detroit, Michigan
  • Died: January 28, 1986 in Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • Parents: A. Bruce Jarvis and Lucille Ladd (divorced)
  • Spouse: Marcia Jarboe Jarvis, married June 1968
  • Education: B.S. degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo and M.S. degree from Northeastern University, both in electrical engineering
  • Military Career: United States Air Force 1969-73
  • Work: Hughes Aircraft from 1973 to 1986, selected as an astronaut candidate in 1984

Early Life

Gregory Bruce Jarvis was born in Detroit, Michigan, on August 24, 1944. Growing up, he was heavily involved with a variety of sports and was also a classical guitarist. His father, Greg Jarvis, and mother, Lucille Ladd, divorced when he was in college at the State University of New York. He studied electrical engineering and received his bachelor's degree in 1967. He then pursued a Master's degree in Electrical Engineering at Northeastern. After graduation, he served in the Air Force for four years, attaining the rank of captain. 

Work at Hughes Aircraft

In 1973, Jarvis joined Hughes Aircraft Company, where he worked as an engineer on various satellite programs. Over the next few years, he served as an engineer for the MARISAT Program, which consisted of a set of maritime communications satellites. He then went on to work on communications systems for military use before joining the Advanced Program Laboratory to work on the LEASAT systems. The technology provided synchronous communications for a variety of applications. In 1984, Jarvis, along with 600 other Hughes engineers, applied to become payload specialists for NASA flights.

Work With NASA

Gregory Jarvis was accepted for training by NASA in 1984. He was listed as a payload specialist, a category including people trained by commercial or research institutions to do specific space shuttle flights. His main interest was the effect of weightlessness on fluids. Jarvis was put on flight status and slated to go into space in 1985. However, his place was taken by Jake Garn, a U.S. senator who wanted to fly into space. Another senator, Bill Nelson, stepped in and also wanted to fly, so Jarvis' flight was postponed until 1986. 

Jarvis was assigned as a payload specialist on STS-51L aboard the Challenger shuttle. It would be the 25th shuttle mission carried out by NASA and included the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe. Jarvis was tasked to study fluids in space, in particular, the effects on liquid-fueled rockets, as part of a fluid dynamics experiment. His specific duties were to test the reaction of satellite propellants to shuttle maneuvers.

Gregory B. Jarvis during training for his shuttle mission
Gregory B. Jarvis during training for his shuttle mission. NASA 

For 51L, Challenger carried a tracking and data relay satellite (TDRS), as well as the Spartan Halley shuttle-pointed tool for astronomy. Jarvis and the others would be responsible for their deployment, while colleague Christa McAuliffe would teach lessons from space and attend to a set of student experiments carried into space aboard the shuttle. Although not specifically in the mission plan, astronaut Ronald McNair had brought along his saxophone and had planned to play a short concert from space.

The Challenger Disaster

The space shuttle Challenger was destroyed in an explosion 73 seconds after launch on January 28, 1986. In addition to Gregory Jarvis, crew members Christa McAuliffe, Ron McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith A. Resnik, Dick Scobee, and Michael J. Smith were killed in the disaster. After Jarvis' remains were recovered, he was cremated and scattered at sea by his widow, Marcia Jarboe Jarvis.  

Personal Life

Gregory Jarvis married Marcia Jarboe in 1968 after they had met in college. They were active in sports, particularly long-distance cycling. They had no children. Marcia worked as a dental assistant. 

Honors and Awards

Gregory Jarvis was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor posthumously. There is an engineering building at the State University of New York, Buffalo, named for him, as well as a dam in New York state. 

Jarvis, along with other crew members, was the subject of a film called "Beyond the Stars" and a documentary called "For All Mankind," dedicated to the sacrifice made by the Challenger crew.


  • “Gregory B. Jarvis.” The Astronauts Memorial Foundation,
  • Jarvis,
  • Knight, J.D. “Gregory Jarvis - Challenger Memorial on Sea and Sky.” Sea and Sky - Explore the Oceans Below and the Universe Above,
  • Nordheimer, Jon. “GREGORY JARVIS.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Feb. 1986,
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Your Citation
Petersen, Carolyn Collins. "Biography of Gregory Jarvis, Challenger Astronaut." ThoughtCo, Feb. 17, 2021, Petersen, Carolyn Collins. (2021, February 17). Biography of Gregory Jarvis, Challenger Astronaut. Retrieved from Petersen, Carolyn Collins. "Biography of Gregory Jarvis, Challenger Astronaut." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).