Sending soldiers into space may seem unusual for an Army that conducts a large part of its missions on the ground, but during the next two years NASA’s International Space Station will have at least one active duty or retired Army astronaut on board.
Retired Army Col. Tim Kopra launched, Dec. 15, and is scheduled to return, June 5. He will be joined by retired Army Col. Jeff Williams, March 18.
Upon Williams’ return, retired Army Col. Shane Kimbrough is set to launch, Sept. 22, and Col. Mark Vande Hei will be making his rookie flight in March 2017.
All but Vande Hei will be commanders during the second half of their six-month missions.
“The Army is always gravitating toward having more representation in those longer duration flights on the space station than the other services have,” Vande Hei said. “We have a very good reputation for going places and staying. And we’re doing that in space.”
All active duty Army astronauts are assigned to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command’s NASA detachment at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The newest class of astronauts includes Lt. Col. Drew Morgan and Maj. Anne McClain. Either could be assigned for ISS expeditions beginning in the next 12 to 18 months.
McClain said she really likes how varied astronaut training is from day to day.
“Being in the Army, you don’t stay in one job very long,” she said. “I was nervous coming here thinking this is going to be my one job for a very long time even though it’s like the coolest job I could possibly imagine. But something I didn’t realize is how varied your job is day to day.”
Morgan said his soldier skills bring something unique to the Astronaut Corps.
“We have a very expeditionary mindset, a concept that we can pick up and we can go anywhere and we can live there for a long time,” said Morgan. “We bring a lot of leadership. We bring a lot of technical skills. I think that Soldiers are very well suited for what we need astronauts to be, which is very flexible, very technical, very operational and good at working in teams.”
Morgan said his favorite thing about being an astronaut is being part of a team. He also talked about the importance of the mission.
“It’s important to everybody in the entire human race, the entire world,” Morgan said. “It’s something that transcends national boundaries.”
Vande Hei said that one of his favorite aspects of military service is being part of a team and he explained how that carries over to his astronaut mission.
“Just the interaction with people when you all have to be really good at your particular task, but you also have to be looking out for each other keeping up a good sense of humor when it’s a really stressful situation, Vande Hei said. “There’s challenges with it, but that’s one of things I really like about this job too.”
As Vande Hei prepares for his launch on a Russian Soyez spacecraft in March 2017 for Expeditions 51 and 52, he said he is looking forward to the experience.
“I’m most excited about just adapting to living in a completely different environment and getting a different perspective of the earth and what it means to be a human living on this planet,” Vande Hei said. “I think having a perspective of our situations in life that’s extremely unique is an amazing opportunity. It’s going to be a six-month expedition, and we’re living off of the planet with five other people. It’s an extended camping trip.”