Robert Curbeam is a Captain in the United States Navy and a former astronaut. He was born Robert Lee Curbeam, Jr. on March 5, 1962 and in 1980 he graduated from Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, Maryland. He then attended the United States Naval Academy, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering in 1984. After graduating and completing flight training, Curbeam reported to Fighter Squadron 11 (VF-11) and made multiple overseas deployments on the USS Forrestal to the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas, as well as the Arctic and Indian Oceans. During this time, he also attended Navy Fighter Weapons School. In 1989, Curbeam was named Fighter Wing One Radar Intercept Officer of the Year as well as the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School Best Developmental Thesis Award. A year later, he earned a Master of Science degree in aeronautical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School.
After he finished United States Naval Test Pilot School in December 1991, he begun working as the project officer for the F-14A/B Air-to-Ground Weapons Separation Program at the Strike Aircraft Test Directorate. However, in August 1994, he returned to the U.S. Naval Academy, where he worked as an instructor in the Weapons and Systems Engineering Department. Later that year, Curbeam was selected by NASA as an astronaut. In March 1995, he reported to the Johnson Space Center for a year of training and evaluation. He was then assigned to the Computer Support Branch in the Astronaut Office.
In August 1997, Curbeam went to space for the first time. STS-85 launched on August 7 for a 12-day mission. The crew successfully sent out and retrieved the CRISTA-SPAS payload, controlled the Japanese Manipulator Flight Demonstration robotic arm, studied changes in the Earth’s atmosphere, and analyzed the technology that would be used on the International Space Station. On August 19, after 189 orbits of the Earth, the mission safely landed back to Earth. For the following three years, Curbeam worked as a CAPCOM responsible for relaying all voice communication between Mission Control and crews aboard the shuttles and the International Space Station. In 2001, he was chosen to fly to space for the second time. The mission STS-98 launched on February 7 to continue working on the International Space Station. Curbeam completed three spacewalks and the crew relocated a docking port, delivered supplies to the resident Expedition 1 crew, and successfully sent out the U.S. laboratory module Destiny after spending a week docked to the ISS. After 12 days, 21 hours, and 20 minutes in space, the mission ended on February 20. Following his return to Earth, Curbeam went back to serving in CAPCOM, that time as a Branch Chief. During the spring of 2002, he went to NASA headquarters in Washington D.C. to work as the Deputy Associate Administrator for Safety and Mission Assurance.
Curbeam’s final mission to space was on STS-116, which launched on December 9, 2006 at 8:47 p.m. EST. The mission’s goal was to continue work on the ISS. It included installing a new truss segment, rewiring some of the electrical system, and bringing Flight Engineer Thomas Reiter back home. During the mission, Curbeam broke a record by becoming the first person to perform four spacewalks during a single mission, one with astronaut Sunita Williams and the others with astronaut Christer Fuglesang. Today, Curbeam still holds the record for spacewalks during a single spaceflight. In late 2007, Curbeam left NASA to pursue another job. He is currently a member of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association and the Association of Old Crows.
Image Caption: Portrait astronaut Robert Curbeam. Credit: NASA/Wikipedia