Jan Davis is a former American astronaut and a veteran of three space flights. She was born Nancy Jan Smotherman on November 1, 1953 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. She grew up in Huntsville, Alabama and graduated from Huntsville High School in 1971. She then went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Biology from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1975 and another in mechanical engineering from Auburn University in 1977. Davis also attended the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where she received a Master of Science degree in 1983 and a Doctorate in 1985, both in mechanical engineering.
After graduating from Auburn, Davis took a job as a petroleum engineer in tertiary oil recovery for Texaco in Bellaire, Texas. In 1979, she went to work for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center as an aerospace engineer. She was later named as team leader in the Structural Analysis Division, where they were responsible for maintaining the Hubble Space Telescope. In June 1987, Davis became an astronaut. Her first technical assignment was providing technical support for Space shuttle payloads in the Astronaut Office Mission Development Branch. Then she served as a CAPCOM in Mission Control communicating with Shuttle crews for seven missions.
Her first flight to space was aboard space shuttle Endeavour on STS-47, which launched on September 12, 1992. This cooperative mission with the United States and Japan carried out over forty experiments in life sciences and materials processing. Davis was in charge of Spacelab and its subsystems, and after 126 orbits of the Earth, the mission ended with a landing at Kennedy Space Center on September 20, 1992. Mission STS-60 was her second space flight, this time aboard shuttle Discovery. It launched in February 1994 as the first mission to carry a Russian cosmonaut as a crew member. Three years later, on August 7, 1997 Davis launched aboard shuttle Discovery as payload commander for STS-85. The mission successfully deployed and retrieved the CRISTA-SPAS payload, operated the Japanese Manipulator Flight Demonstration robotic arm, and performed various research experiments. The mission was accomplished in 189 Earth orbits and landed on August 19, 1997.
After her flight on STS-85, Davis became the Director of the Human Exploration and Development of Space at NASA Headquarters, where she directed independent evaluations for the programs assigned to the HEDS enterprise. In July 1999, she assumed the position of Director of the Flight Projects Directorate at the Marshall Space Flight Center. There she was in charge of managing the International Space Station Payload Operations Center, ISS hardware and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory Program.
Davis has been honored many times, including receiving the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, the NASA Space Flight Medal, and the NASA Fellowship for Full-Time Study. She has also been inducted to the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame and the Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame. Davis retired from NASA in 2005 and currently works as a Vice President and Deputy General Manager for Jacobs Engineering Group. She is married to Judge Schuyler Richardson.