Susan Helms is a Lieutenant General in the United States Air Force and a former NASA astronaut. She was born Susan Jane Helms on February 26, 1958 in Charlotte, North Carolina. She grew up in Portland, Oregon and graduated from Parkrose Senior High School in 1976. She then attended the United States Air Force Academy and received a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1980. She subsequently received her commission and initially served as an F-16 weapons separation engineer with the Air Force Armament Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base. In 1984, she was selected to attend graduate school at Stanford University and received a Master of Science degree a year later. Helms then worked as an assistant professor of aeronautics at the U.S. Air Force Academy. She attended the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in 1987, and after one year of training as a flight test engineer, she became an Exchange Officer to the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment at Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake in Alberta, Canada. She was managing the development of a CF-18 Flight Control System Simulation in Canada when she was chosen for the astronaut program.
In July 1991, Helms became a NASA astronaut. Her first flight was aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour on STS-54. The mission launched from the Kennedy Space Center January 13, 1993. The five-man crew successfully deployed the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite to complete a national communications network and collected data from a Diffuse X-Ray Spectrometer to obtain information on the origin of X-rays in the Milky Way galaxy. Additionally, a spacewalk was performed, and the flight became the first to shut down and restart a fuel cell in flight. After 96 orbits of the Earth, Endeavour landed safely back at the Kennedy Space Center on January 19, 1993. A year and a half later, Helms was launched back into space, this time as the flight engineer aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-64. During the mission, the crew sent out and retrieved a solar science satellite, used RMS boom for jet thruster research, used lasers for environmental research for the first time, and carried out the first un-tethered spacewalk in ten years to test a self-rescue jetpack. The mission landed back at Edwards Air Force Base on September 20, 1994. Her third flight to space was as the payload commander and flight engineer aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia on STS-78. It launched on June 20, 1996 and was the longest Space Shuttle mission to date, as they spent 16 days in space. The Life and Microgravity Spacelab mission served as a model for future studies onboard the International Space Station.
On May 19, 2000 Helms was launched into for the fourth time, this time aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-101. The mission’s goal was to deliver and repair critical hardware for the International Space Station. Helms performed repairs to extend the life of the Functional Cargo Block and held prime responsibility of the onboard computer network. She also served as the mission specialist for rendezvous with the ISS before Atlantis landed back on Earth on May 29, 2000. The following year, Helms embarked on Expedition 2 and was sent back to the ISS with her fellow crewmembers from STS-101. They launched aboard STS-102 Discovery and successfully docked with the station the next day. During their stay at the ISS, the crew worked on the Canadian-made Space Station Robotic arm and performed internal and external maintenance tasks as well as medical and scientific experiments. Helms installed the Airlock using the SSRM and performed a ‘fly around’ of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. On March 11, she performed a world record 8 hour and 56 minute space walk to install hardware on the laboratory module. After spending a total of 163 days aboard the Space Station, the Expedition 2 crew returned to Earth aboard STS-105 Discovery on August 22, 2001.
In July 2002, after a 12-year NASA career, Helms returned to the U.S. Air Force and served as Vice Commander of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base. She has since served in many leadership roles within the USAF. In June 2006, she was promoted to Brigadier General and became Commander of the 45th Space Wing on the same day of her promotion. In August 2009, Helms was promoted again, this time to Major General. In January 2011, Helms was promoted to Lieutenant General and became Commander of the 14th Air Force Joint Functional Component Command for Space, US Strategic Command, where she currently serves at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Image Caption: USAF Lt. General. Credit: United States Air Force/Wikipedia