Leroy Chiao is an American engineer, former NASA astronaut, entrepreneur, motivational speaker and engineering consultant. He was born on August 28, 1960 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was raised in Danville, California and graduated from Monte Vista High School in 1978. Chiao then went on to attend the University of California, Berkeley, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering in 1983. He then went on to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he earned a Master of Science degree in 1985, and then a doctorate in chemical engineering in 1987. After his graduation, Chiao worked at Hexcel Corporation in Dublin, California for two years, where he was involved in process, manufacturing and engineering research on advanced aerospace materials. At the same time, he worked on a joint NASA-JPL/Hexcel project to develop a functional segment reflector that was made of advanced polymer composite materials. In January 1989, Chiao joined the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, where he was involved in processing research for fabrication of filament-wound and thick-section aerospace composites.
In January 1990, Chiao was named a NASA candidate, and in July 1991, he became an astronaut. He has been given many technical assignments throughout his career, including Space Shuttle flight software verification in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory, Training and Flight Data File issues, and EVA matters as the for the branch. He also held the title Chief of the Astronaut Office EVA Branch. Along with his technological projects, Chiao also flew on three space flights. His first flight was on STS-65 aboard shuttle Columbia, which launched on July 8, 1994. The mission flew the second International Microgravity Laboratory, and during the flight, the crew carried out over 80 scientific and research experiments. It was accomplished in 236 orbits of the Earth and landed safely on July 23, 1994. Chiao’s second flight was with STS-72 mission. They launched aboard Shuttle Endeavour on January 11, 1996. During the mission, the crew retrieved the Space Flyer Unit that was launched from Japan ten months earlier, and they deployed and retrieved the OAST-Flyer. Chiao performed two spacewalks as well.
STS-92 was Chiao’s third mission to space. They were launched on October 11, 2000 aboard shuttle Discovery. The mission crew successfully attached the Z1 Truss and Pressurized Mating Adapter 3 to the International Space Station using Discovery’s robotic arm. They also performed four space walks to configure the elements. Four years later, Chiao was sent up to the ISS to command Expedition 10, which began on October 9, 2004 and ended on April 24, 2005. In addition to being fluent in Mandarin, Chiao learned Russian to communicate with other crew members aboard the ISS. Chiao was also the first American to vote in a presidential election while in space, when he participated in the 2004 United States presidential election. Chiao left NASA in December 2005.
Since leaving NASA, Chiao joined SpaceWorks Engineering, Inc. as an associate and technical advisor. He assists the firm on space technologies and operating processes for future space exploration concepts and research. In July 2006, Chiao became the Executive Vice President for Space Operations and a Director of Excalibur Almaz Limited. He is also currently serving as the Chairman of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute User Panel. He is married to Karen, and enjoys flying his Grumman Tiger aircraft and downhill skiing.