Andrew “Andy” Thomas

Andrew “Andy” Sydney Withiel Thomas was born December 18, 1951 in Adelaide, South Australia. He entered into US citizenship in December of 1986 with the goal of participating in NASA’s astronaut program. Andy became an Australian-born American NASA astronaut as an aerospace engineer. He was the first Australian born professional astronaut to enter space. He was preceded in entering into orbit by Paul D. Scully-Power, an oceanographer in 1985. He married a fellow NASA astronaut Shannon Walker.

Andy always had a fascination with space according to his dad. His father talked of him at an early age creating model rockets from simple materials such as cardboard and plastic. After completing his academic studies at St. Andrews School and St. Peter’s College in Adelaide, he continued on to the University of Adelaide to pursue that interest.

While at the University in 1972 he appeared in an edition of the Adelaide University Engineering Society’s annual publication called Hysteresis. Underneath his photo within the publication he was described as having high intellect and a quiet nature with many talents.

Thomas received his bachelor of engineering degree with first class honors in 1973. He achieved a Doctorate in the same field at the University in 1978.

Once he completed his studies, Thomas signed on with Lockheed in Atlanta, Georgia. He held an important role as Lockheed’s central aerodynamic scientist and eventually gravitated into senior research roles to further his career.

NASA accepted Thomas in March of 1992 and placed him at the Johnson Space Center in August to complete his year of training. Once his training was completed he then was qualified to participate as a mission specialist on a Space Shuttle flight crew.

Thomas stayed busy while waiting for his assignment by working at Kennedy Space Center as an Astronaut Support Person (ASP). In this role he supported the launch and landing of the Shuttle. Other projects during that time in which he provided technical support were the Space Shuttle Main Engine Project, the Solid Rocket Motor Project and the External Tank Project at the Marshall Flight Center.

Thomas was named payload commander for the STS-77 which led to the first of Thomas’ four space flights in May of 1996. To this date he has logged 177 days, 9 hours and 14 minutes in space.

STS-77, the first of his flights, launched from Kennedy Space Center on May 19, 1996. It lasted a total of 10 days including 160 orbits at an altitude of 153 nautical miles above Earth. The distance traveled was 4.1 million miles taking 240 hour and 39 minutes to complete. The crew was able to deploy two satellites and completed experiments within Spacehab laboratory inside the Endeavor’s payload bay. The scientists also tested a large inflatable space structure while on orbit.

Thomas’ next flight required extra training at Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. He spent 130 days in training before launching his second flight on January 22, 1998. To fill the role as Flight Engineer 2 on the Mir Space Station, he joined the STS-89 crew and traveled aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor before docking on the Mir. He ended his 141 days and 2250 orbits of Earth on the Mir with a return trip on the Space Shuttle Discovery as part of the STS-91 crew.

On August 8, 2001 Thomas was appointed as Deputy Chief of Astronaut’s Office. This assignment led to the 8th shuttle mission to Mir, the STS-102 Discovery. During his third flight he performed an EVA (extra-vehicular activity) of 6.5 hours on the outside of the Mir Station installing components. Other tasks completed on the flight included the delivery of the Expedition 2 crew, restocking supplies on the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module and taking the Expedition 1 crew back to Earth. The mission took 307 hours and 49 minutes to complete.

The fourth mission to date, STS-114 Discovery, occurred on July 26, 2005. Its mission was the Return to Flight campaign post the Columbia accident. The crew’s mission was to continue the assembly of the International Space Station. Thomas’ personal role was to test and evaluate new procedures for flight safety and inspection. He also tested repair techniques for the Shuttle’s thermal protection system. The mission closed with the return to Edwards Air Force Base in California after 2 weeks, 5.8 million miles, 333 hours, 32 minutes and 48 seconds.

Thomas still currently works as an astronaut and is trouble-shooting issues for the Exploration Branch of the Astronaut Office.

Image Caption: Astronaut en: Andy Thomas (Australian b1951). Credit: NASA/Wikipedia