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James Buchli


One North Dakota man has traveled around the world at least 319 times. That’s 7.74 million miles. Pretty impressive, you might think, but here’s the kicker: he did it in slightly less than three weeks.

This man, known as Jim to his friends, was born in New Rockford in 1945 and graduated from Fargo Central High School in 1963. He’s an ordinary man in many ways – an outdoorsman; he likes to ski, scuba dive, hunt and fish. After high school, he went to the U.S. Naval Academy, became a Marine and then went to Vietnam, where he served for one year as a Platoon Commander of the 9th Marine Regiment, and then as Company Commander and Executive Officer for "B" Company.

After some naval flight officer training in Florida, he spent 2 years assigned to Marine Fighter/Attack Squadrons in Hawaii, Japan and Thailand. Then, in 1977, he went to U.S. Test Pilot School in Maryland. By the time Jim retired, he was a colonel and had logged over 4,000 hours in jet aircraft. He had also received a Presidential Unit Citation, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with the Silver Star, a Purple Heart, a Combat Action Ribbon, a Defense Service Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and on and on...

Now, on March 13th, 1989, Jim made news that was never meant to go public. Several ham radio operators say that at 0642 hours, they caught a raw transmission of him radioing ground control. What he was reported to say was, “We still have the alien spacecraft... under observance..." UFO enthusiasts grabbed onto those words and held on tight. James F. Buchli – astronaut – was transmitting to Houston from the Discovery Space Shuttle.

NASA at first refused to concede that the transmission – which was caught on tape by a ham radio operator in Ohio – even existed. Later, NASA claimed it was a hoax. Probably none of us will ever know for sure, except for Buchli, of course. And he’s not telling.

On this date in history – in 1985 – Buchli was aboard the Challenger as it landed; it was his second mission, which was a West German Spacelab mission. It was the first mission to carry eight crew members, the largest crew to fly in space. It was also the first flight in which payload activities were controlled from somewhere other than the United States.

Buchli became an astronaut in 1979 and has been in space four times. His first flight was in 1985, aboard the Discovery, which was the first mission dedicated to the Department of Defense. Buchli was also on a 1989 Discovery flight, during which the crew deployed a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, performed numerous experiments and took over 3,000 photos of Earth. Buchli’s last flight lasted five days and was in 1991, also aboard Discovery.

Now, remember all those awards and medals he got? Here are a few others: four NASA Space Flight Medals, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.

Now about those aliens...

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm