MISSIONS AND TRAINING
Before becoming an astronaut, Steve had a fantastic job working as a systems engineer and a flight engineer in the Aircraft Operations Division of NASA’s Johnson Space Center working on the Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA). The STA is a complex airborne shuttle simulator, which models the flight characteristics of the space shuttle from 35,000 ft. to main gear touchdown. During his time with the STA, he included improving the STA’s navigation and control systems and incorporating a real-time wind determination algorithm. For Steve, this job was great – combining engineering and operations and he had great management (though at the time he didn’t know just how good he had it).
Hence it was bittersweet in May of 1998 when Steve was selected as mission specialist by NASA and started training in August of 1998. After completing Astronaut Candidate training, which included intensive instruction in Shuttle and ISS systems, plus advance training in spacewalk, shuttle and space station robotic arm operations, and shuttle rendezvous procedures, he was assigned to multiple jobs in the Astronaut Office.
Steve’s first flight was STS-117 (June 8-22, 2007) on Atlantis and they delivered the second starboard truss segment, which had the third set of United States solar arrays, batteries, and associated equipment. This was a great first flight for Steve, he was flight engineer, got to do two spacewalks, and got to fly both of the robotic arms among many other tasks. He accumulated 13 hours and 45 minutes of extra vehicular activity during two spacewalks. STS-117 landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, having traveled 5.8 million miles in 14 days.
Steve’s second flight was STS-119 (March 15-28, 2009) on Discovery and they delivered the final starboard truss segment, S6. As part of S6, the fourth and final set of U.S. solar arrays, batteries and associated equipment were also delivered, installed and deployed. Steve was the flight engineer and lead spacewalker on this flight. He conducted two of the spacewalks totaling 12 hours and 37 minutes. STS-119 landed at the NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after traveling 5.3 million miles in 13 days.
For his third flight, Steve launched with two Russians aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket (TMA-12M) from Baikonur, Kazakhstan as members of Expedition 39. The crew docked with the International Space Station on March 27. During his almost six-month tour of duty aboard the orbiting laboratory, Steve worked on many experiments, including experiments on plant growth, the human body, and fluids. He also got to do one spacewalk to fix a faulty computer. Plus, he was lucky enough to get the opportunity to upgrade Robonaut (the onboard robot) and give him legs. In May 2014, Steve assumed command of the station with the departure of Expedition 39 Commander Koichi Wakata. Expedition 40 concluded on September 10 with a safe landing in central Kazakhstan, marking an end to 169 days in space that covered almost 72 million miles in orbit.