Two Air Force officers inducted into U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame
By Brad A. Swezey, 45th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 16, 2011
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. -- Two Air Force officers who served as astronauts with NASA were inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., May 14.
Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, the 14th Air Force commander, and retired Col. Karol Bobko were inducted in a ceremony at KSC a little less than an hour after an Atlas V launched from neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., carrying the first satellite in the Space Based Infrared System.
Before a crowd in the hundreds, the two Air Force Academy graduates were welcomed into the Hall by fellow Astronaut Hall of Famers.
The first inductee, Colonel Bobko, was also part of the first class to graduate from the Air Force Academy in 1959. He flew on three space shuttle missions and logged more than 386 hours in space, to include piloting the first flight of the space shuttle Challenger in 1983.
On his second space shuttle flight in 1985 on space shuttle Discovery, which he commanded, he participated in something for which his crew never trained for before the flight. When one of the satellites they deployed malfunctioned, they decided to do a spacewalk and use the robotic arm to activate the satellite. Also, despite having a blown main landing gear tire, he successfully landed the space shuttle.
Colonel Bobko's last flight was on space shuttle Atlantis, which was a Department of Defense mission. Since his retirement from NASA and the Air Force in 1988, he has stayed connected with space and is currently the president of the U.S. chapter of the Association of Space Explorers.
A few years after Colonel Bobko finished up his astronaut career, General Helms, a member of the first class of the Air Force Academy to include women, was beginning the astronaut portion of her career in 1991.
The former commander of the 45th Space Wing had her first shuttle flight in 1993 aboard space shuttle Endeavor. During this mission, the crew deployed a $200 million satellite.
General Helms' second flight happened in 1994 aboard space shuttle Discovery; she served as a flight engineer and primary remote manipulator system operator.
On her third space shuttle flight in 1996, General Helms was the payload commander and flight engineer on space shuttle Columbia. This flight was the first to combine both a full microgravity studies agenda and a comprehensive life science investigation.
The former director of plans and policy for U.S. Strategic Command had her fourth space shuttle flight aboard Atlantis in 2000.
General Helms' prime responsibilities during this mission were to perform critical repairs to extend the life of the International Space Station.
In addition, she was responsible for the onboard computer network and served as the mission specialist for rendezvous with the ISS.
General Helms returned to the ISS on space shuttle Discovery in 2001. She, along with a Russian cosmonaut and another astronaut, retired Army Col. James Voss, were aboard the ISS from March until August of that year. It was during this time that General Helms and Colonel Voss set a world record for the longest spacewalk, which lasted 8 hours and 56 minutes.
She returned to Earth on space shuttle Discovery in August; this mission capped off 211 days she had spent in space during her career.
As the current joint functional component commander for space at U.S. Strategic Command, General Helms still is involved with the nation's space program, though in a different capacity than as an astronaut.
Both inductees received standing ovations numerous times throughout the ceremony and praised the people who made both of their journeys possible.
"I drew more from them than they ever drew from me," General Helms said.