Mullane was born in Wichita Falls, Texas but grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He studied at the United States Military Academy and earned a master's degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. He graduated from West Point in 1967 and saw military service in Vietnam.
In 1978, Mullane was selected to become an astronaut. He went on to fly in three Space Shuttle missions, logging a total of three hundred and fifty-six hours in space. Mullane retired from NASA and the USAF in 1990.
Richard Mullane has written three non-fiction works related to his experience as an astronaut; Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut (ISBN 0-7432-7682-5), Do Your Ears Pop in Space and 500 Other Surprising Questions About Space Travel (ISBN 1-569-01111-7) and Liftoff!: An Astronaut's Dream (ISBN 0-382-24664-0). In addition to those works he has also written a science-fiction novel called Red Sky: A Novel of Love, Space, & War (ISBN 1-569-01111-7).