KNOXVILLE — A University of Tennessee alumnus will be in command of Space Shuttle Endeavour when it launches Wednesday from Kennedy Space Center.
Astronaut and Navy Cmdr. Scott Kelly will lead the crew of shuttle mission STS-118 on their 11-day mission, expected to make a critical addition to the International Space Station. The crew will be adding an element to the station known as the P5 truss, as well as transferring a significant amount of cargo to the station.
Kelly, who also flew on a shuttle mission in 1999, earned a master’s degree in aviation systems from the UT Space Institute in 1996.
“We are very proud to count Cmdr. Kelly as one of more than 10 UTSI graduates who have become astronauts and flown on the Space Shuttle,” said UTSI Chief Operating Officer Don Daniel. “All of us at the UT Space Institute look forward to a good launch next week, an exciting mission to the space station and a safe return to earth for Commander Kelly and the entire crew.”
In addition to servicing the space station, this mission could be the longest ever shuttle trip to the space station thanks to new technology.
The new station-to-shuttle power transfer system will allow the shuttle to stay in space an additional three days and support another trip outside of the shuttle, known as an extra-vehicular activity, or EVA, by the astronauts.
The seeds of Kelly’s interest in spaceflight were planted at a young age, according to a NASA interview.
“Certainly the Apollo program, being a kid during the moon landings and having a memory of that, was always in my mind,” said Kelly in the interview. “I thought it would just be a very challenging and exciting job. And I was right.”
As the mission commander, Kelly will draw on his experience as a Navy test pilot as he performs a number of complex maneuvers as the shuttle approaches the station to dock.
“As we get within several thousand feet of the station, I’ll actually start flying it manually by looking at some camera views on some monitors, but also looking out the window,” said Kelly.
In addition to his duties in flying the shuttle once in space, Kelly is responsible for the overall command of the mission, as well as ensuring the safety of astronauts as they don spacesuits to leave the spacecraft and install equipment on the outside of the space station.
According to Kelly, the greatest challenge of spaceflight is ensuring that the crew is properly trained and ready to fly, he said recently.
“There are so many different complicated tasks we have to do,” said Kelly. “So making sure that everyone, including myself, is at the right level of training is certainly, I think, the most challenging aspect of it.”
Another unique aspect of the mission is found not in the tasks to be accomplished but in one of Kelly’s crew members. Mission specialist Barbara Morgan will be the second person to participate in NASA’s program to send educators into space. The first was astronaut Christa McAuliffe, who lost her life in the Challenger accident in 1986.
In spite of the mission’s importance, however, Kelly points toward the experience of launch as his favorite part of spaceflight.
“When you’re watching the shuttle launch as a spectator, it looks like [the shuttle is] lifting off the pad slowly,” said Kelly. “But when you’re inside, it seems like you’re really getting up and going in a hurry. You know you’re going somewhere; you’re not exactly sure where; but you know you’re not coming back to Florida. It’s quite a wild ride.”
Jay Mayfield, (865-974-9409, firstname.lastname@example.org)