Hero NASA astronaut who secretly flew into space with Parkinson’s dies aged 69

An astronaut who flew into space without telling NASA that he had Parkinson's disease has died aged 69.

Michael “Rich” Clifford, flew on three space shuttle missions, having chosen to become an astronaut in 1990 with NASA.

According to Space.com, he joined the corps three years after being assigned by the U.S. Army to NASA's Johnson Space Centre in Houston, where he was serving as a space shuttle vehicle integration engineer at the time of his selection.

His death was confirmed on Tuesday by the Association of Space Explorers (ASE), of which he was a life member.

His first flight took place on December 2, 1992, which was a classified mission on the Discovery space shuttle for the Department of Defense.

It was a week-long flight, which conducted medical studies on the effects of microgravity on cells from bone tissue, muscles and blood.

His second flight took place on April 9, 1994, where he became one of the crew operating the Space Radar Laborator.

It was this mission where he flow with his Parkinson's a secret.

However, he wanted to fly once more, and informed NASA's medical staff and his commander ahead of his third mission, in March 1996.

He was monitored throughout his training, but as his symptoms never interfered with his preparations for the tasks he was given the green light to fly.

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He even became one of the first astronauts to perform a spacewalk outside a shuttle docked with a space station.

It lasted for six hours, two minutes, 28 seconds

He returned to Earth on March 31, 1996, and resigned from the astronaut corps and NASA in January 1997,

The California native spent, in total, 27 days, 18 hours and 24 minutes in space while completing 443 orbits of Earth.

He is survived by his wife, Nancy Elizabeth (née Brunson), and their two sons, Richard and Brandon.

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