Michael Gernhardt is a NASA astronaut. He was born Michael Landon Gernhardt on May 4, 1956 in Mansfield, Ohio. He was raised there and graduated from Malabar High School in 1974. He then went on to attend Vanderbilt University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics in 1978. While at Vanderbilt, Gernhardt began working as a professional diver and project engineer on multiple underwater oil field construction and repair projects around the world. During this time, he completed hundreds of deep sea dives based on air, mixed gas, bounce bell and saturation diving; he also assisted in developing new decompression tables. He continued this work through graduate school, earning a Master of Science degree in bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983. In 1984, Gernhardt began working for Oceaneering International, where he managed the Special Projects division and led the development of underwater robotic cleaning and inspection. In 1988 he founded his own company, Oceaneering Space Systems, and began working on developing new astronaut and robotic tools for maintenance on future space stations, as well as life support systems for use during spacewalks. Around that time, he also furthered his education at University of Pennsylvania, and earned a doctorate in bioengineering in 1991.
In 1992, Gernhardt was chosen to be a NASA astronaut candidate and reported to the Johnson Space Center. He has worked on many assignments in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory and supported trainings for the Hubble Space Telescope repair and future spacewalk developments. He was also a member of the astronaut support team at the Kennedy Space Center, and served as spacecraft communicator at Mission Control Center in Houston for multiple Space Shuttle missions. Gernhardt expanded his work internationally by leading a research team in developing new protocols that implemented safety and competence of space walks from the International Space Station. His first flight to space was on STS-69, which launched on September 7, 1995. The mission successfully sent out and received two satellites: a SPARTAN and the Wake Shield Facility. Gernhardt performed a six-hour spacewalk to evaluate tools for the ISS. After 171 orbits of the Earth, the mission landed back on Earth on September 18, 1995. In 1997, Gernhardt flew on the Microgravity Science Laboratory Spacelab mission. It launched for the first time on April 4, as STS-83, with the intention of doing scientific research. However, the mission was cut short due to failure of a cell power generation unit. The crew landed back on Earth on April 8, after 63 orbits. On July 1, they re-flew the mission, as STS-94, and successfully collected the data they needed. The crew orbited the Earth 251 times before landing back on Earth on July 17, 1997.
Gernhardt next flew to space on the STS-104 mission, which was the tenth mission to the International Space Station. The crew launched on July 12, 2001 and met up with the Expedition-2 crew to install the joint airlock “Quest” and prepare it for high pressure tanks. During the mission, Gernhardt participated in three spacewalks, one of which was the first US spacewalk from the ISS. After 200 orbits of the Earth, STS-104 landed on July 24, 2001. Along with being an astronaut, Gernhardt was also an aquanaut. He has served on four NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations missions to date. His first underwater mission, a crew member aboard the Aquarius underwater laboratory in October 2001, was also the first NEEMO mission. In April 2005, he commanded the NEEMO 8 mission; in October 2011, he served as a crew member on the NEEMO 15; and in June 2012 he piloted the NEEMO 16 mission. Throughout his career with NASA, he has been honored with many awards, including four NASA Space Flight Medals, two NASA Exceptional Service Medals, a NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, and a NASA Distinguished Service Medal. Currently, Gernhardt works at the Johnson Space Center as a member of the astronaut office EVA branch and as Principal Investigator of the Prebreathe Reduction Program and Manager of the Environmental Physiology Laboratory.
Image Caption: Astronaut Michael Gernhardt. Credit: NASA/Wikipedia