Donald Alan Thomas

Donald Alan Thomas is a retired American astronaut selected by NASA in 1990. Thomas completed 43 days, 8 hours and 13 minutes in space on missions including STS-65, STS-70, STS-83, and STS-94.

Thomas started his education in Cleveland Heights, Ohio with graduating in 1973 from Cleveland Heights High School. He continued his studies at Case Western Reserve University, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics in 1977. He pushed even further at Cornell University achieving a Masters and a Doctorate in Materials Science in 1980 and 1982.

Directly after his studies, Thomas secured the position of as a senior member of the technical staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey. With his knowledge he was able to assist in development of materials to be used for high density interconnections of semi-conductor devices. During his time at AT&T, he simultaneously held a position as adjunct professor in the physics department of Trenton State College in New Jersey.

In 1987 Thomas turned his interest from AT&T to Lockheed Engineering and Sciences Company in Houston, Texas. His main priority there was to review materials to be used in space shuttle payloads. In 1988 he transitioned to NASA’s LBJ Space Center as a materials engineer. His accomplishments there included projecting the materials need for the Space Station Freedom’s lifetime and heading the Microgravity Disturbances Experiment (a mid-deck crystal growth experiment on STS-32) as a principal investigator.

Thomas was selected by NASA in 1990 and after a year of training became an astronaut in July of 1991. He served in several branches of the astronaut office including safety, operations development, and payload.

The first flight of Thomas’ was aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia as a crew member of STS-65. On this mission, the International Microgravity Laboratory (IML-2) conducted over 80 experiments during the record-setting 15 day flight. After 236 orbits of Earth, 6.1 million miles, 353 hours and 55 minutes, the crew returned with many accomplishments behind them.

The STS-70 Discovery was the second flight with Dr. Thomas on board which launched July 13, 1995. This mission launched the sixth Tracking and Data Relay Satellite and after 142 orbits, 3.7 million miles, 214 hours and 20 minutes, returned to Earth.

On April 4, 1997, the STS-83 Microgravity Science Laboratory (MSL-1) launched on Space Shuttle Discovery. Thomas’ mission was shortened due to a problem with one of the Shuttle’s three fuel cell power generation units. After 63 orbits, 1.5 million miles, 95 hours and 12 minutes, the shuttle returned safely on April 8, 1997.

Thomas had a second chance with the previous mission on July 1, 1997. The STS-94 mission aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia was a re-flight of the MSL-1. Thomas focused on studying and gathering data about materials and combustion science research in microgravity. After 251 orbits, 6.3 million miles, 376 hours and 45 minutes, the crew returned on July 17, 1997.

Thomas retired from NASA in July of 2007 to pursue a position as the head of the Willard Hackerman Academy of Mathematics and Science at the Towson University in Towson, Maryland.

Image Caption: Portrait astronaut Donald Thomas. Credit: NASA/Wikipedia