November 10, 2008

A Close Look At Endeavor’s Astronauts

The seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Endeavour will spend Thanksgiving in orbit around the Earth. 

According to Commander Christopher Ferguson, at least seven turkey dinners have been packed aboard Endeavor for the two-week mission scheduled to lift-off on Friday night.

"They've given us the full seven-course Thanksgiving meal, and all we need to have now is the time to eat it," Ferguson said.

Their not-so-ordinary holiday meal included rehydratable green beans, thermostabilized candied yams, fresh corn bread dressing, cranberry-apple dessert, and irradiated smoked turkey.

Though the 7 astronauts will come together to celebrate Thanksgiving aboard Endeavor, they come from very different backgrounds.

Commander Christopher Ferguson, who grew up in Philadelphia, secretly hoped to be an astronaut before ever joining the Navy, and will command his first space mission when Endeavor takes flight for the International Space Station.

"I've had this on my mind, I would say, since perhaps high school, and I'm just lucky enough to be able to fulfill the dream," he said. "It's nice to be in charge, but it's also nice to see how the whole thing comes together."

Ferguson, a 47 year-old father of three, has flown into space once before as a co-pilot on a 2006 mission.

This week's mission will be the first for Pilot Eric Boe. Boe has logged more than 4,000 flight hours in more than 45 types of aircraft since joining the Air Force in the 1980's.

Boe, a 44 year-old Air Force colonel, enter the astronaut corps on his first try in 2000.  His wife Kristen used to be a military pilot also. Life is easier being married to a pilot, Boe said, "but I can't tell as many stories ... she calls my bluff a lot more."

Donald Pettit, 53, will not be making his first trip to the international space station.  Pettit was living at the ISS when the space shuttle Columbia shattered during re-entry in 2003.

He returned on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that entered Earth too steeply and was eventually lost in remote Kazakhstan.  Despite previous setbacks, Pettit has no reservations about returning to space.

During this week's mission, Pettit's second, he will help install a new water recycling system at the ISS and will operate a robotic arm. 

Two years ago, Pettit spent time in Antarctica searching for meteorites to draw comparisons between polar expeditions and life on the ISS.

Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper is the first female to be given the duty of lead spacewalker on a shuttle flight.

Stefanyshyn-Piper took two spacewalks during her first mission in 2006.  On this mission she will perform three spacewalks to lubricate and clean a solar-wing rotating joint.

The 45 year-old Navy Captain failed an eye exam which kept her from flying any aircraft.  Instead, she went into diving and underwater salvage.  In 1996, she put in an astronaut application and was selected.

"I decided that spacewalks were more like diving than flying. So I figured now I'd get to fly in the ultimate machine, the space shuttle," she said.

Her husband, Glenn Piper, works for NASA and is in charge of the equipment she used in her underwater training for the mission.  They have a 19-year-old son who is a college sophomore.

Becoming an astronaut was a childhood dream for Navy Captain Stephen Bowen. Bowen eventually became a submariner after being inspired by Jacques Cousteau, and was the first submarine officer to be selected as an astronaut in 2000.

Navy Capt. Stephen Bowen hopes to put his ceramic tiling experience to work on the mission when he uses a caulk gun to apply grease to a jammed space station joint.

Bowen joked that becoming an astronaut was a logical step "if you want to live in a metal tube for long periods of time."

The 44-year-old father of three will perform three spacewalks on his first spaceflight.

Robert Kimbrough fell in love with space as a child while visiting his grandparents who lived near Kennedy Space Center.  Kimbrough eventually joined the Army becoming a helicopter pilot.  In 2000, he joined NASA as a simulation engineer for aircraft meant to simulate shuttle landings.  Four years later, he became an astronaut.

The 41 year-old Kimbrough will have to postpone duties as coach of his son's football team to perform two spacewalks on his first spaceflight.

"I just tell the kids, 'Hey, I'm just going on a little business trip for a couple weeks and I'll be back when you guys are in the playoffs.' I try to keep it down at their level," said Kimbrough, who was captain of his West Point military academy baseball team.

Sandra Magnus will have to leave her hurricane-damaged roof near Johnson Space Center to stay at the ISS for 3 ½ months.  The trip will be her second to the ISS.

Magnus, 44, decided to become an astronaut while growing up in Belleville, Ill.  She failed to get into the astronaut corps in 1995, but reapplied and was accepted the following year.

She doesn't think about the dangers of spaceflight.

"To me, this is an interesting job. It's a challenging job. It's a job, I think, that is useful, doing something positive. It's something I've always wanted to do. It's how I've wanted to spend my life, and certainly there are risks involved, but there are risk involved in everyday life."

Magnus considers her brother's police officer job in St. Louis a far riskier job than hers.


Image Caption: On the 225-foot level of Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the STS-126 crew poses for a group photo.

From left are Mission Specialists Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Steve Bowen, Pilot Eric Boe, Commander Chris Ferguson, and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus, Donald Pettit and Shane Kimbrough. They earlier took part in a simulated launch countdown as part of the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test.

Image credit: NASA/Troy Cryder


On the Net: