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Who Was Sonny Carter

Manley Lanier "Sonny" Carter, Jr.

Sonny Carter was born August 15, 1947, in Macon, Georgia, but considered Warner Robins, Georgia, to be his hometown. He graduated from Lanier High School in Macon in 1965. Sonny was a Boy Scout and attained the highest level of Eagle Scout. He received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America.

Sonny was a man of many talents and many interests. He enjoyed wrestling, golf, tennis, L.A. Dodger baseball, and old movies. Carter played collegiate soccer and ran track at Emory University. His senior season, he was captain and most valuable player of the soccer team. In addition to his intercollegiate athletic career, Carter was an intramural wrestling champion. In 1989, the school inducted him in its Athletic Hall of Fame.The university holds the Sonny Carter Invitational each year in his honor. Carter was a professional soccer player from 1970-73 for the Atlanta Chiefs of the NASL. He graduated from Emory medical school in June 1973 and completed a straight internal medicine internship at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.

In July 1974 he entered the U.S. Navy and completed flight surgeon school in Pensacola, Florida. After serving tours as a flight surgeon with the 1st and 3rd Marine Air Wings he returned to flight training in Beeville, Texas, and was designated a Naval Aviator in April 1978. He was assigned as the senior medical officer of USS Forrestal, and in March 1979 completed F-4 training at VMFAT-101 Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, Arizona. He was subsequently reassigned as a fighter pilot to duty flying F-4 phantoms with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 333 at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina. In 1981 he completed a 9-month Mediterranean cruise aboard USS Forrestal with VMFA-115. In September 1982 he attended U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) and then served as 2nd Marine Air Wing standardization officer and F-4 combat readiness evaluator at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina. He then attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, graduating in June 1984. He has logged 3,000 flying hours and 160 carrier landings.


Selected by NASA in May 1984, Carter became an astronaut in June 1985, qualified for assignment as a mission specialist on future Space Shuttle flight crews. Carter was assigned as Extravehicular Activity (EVA) Representative for the Mission Development Branch of the Astronaut Office when selected to the crew of STS-33. The STS-33 crew launched, at night, from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on November 22, 1989, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. The mission carried Department of Defense payloads and other secondary payloads. After 79 orbits of the earth, this five-day mission concluded on November 27, 1989 with a hard surface landing on Runway 04 at Edwards Air Force Base, California. With the completion of his first mission, Carter logged 120 hours in space.


Sonny Carter was in training for a second shuttle flight when he tragically died on April 5, 1991 near New Brunswick, Georgia, in the crash of a commercial airplane while on NASA business travel. He is survived by his wife, Dana, and two daughters.

At the time of his death, Captain Carter was assigned as a mission specialist on the crew of STS-42, the first International Microgravity Laboratory (IML-1). After his death, his name was given to the Sonny Carter Training Facility Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, NASA"s underwater astronaut training facility, for which he had developed training techniques. Sonny Carter Elementary School in Macon, Georgia, which opened in 1993, was named for Carter. The school motto is: "To Challenge the Edge of the Universe." A plaque also honors his memory in the library of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house at Emory University, in which he was a Brother. Sonny was enshrined in the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame on November 7, 1992.