Endeavour Astronauts a Mix of Experience, Excitement
The shuttle Endeavour's STS-123 crew rehearse launch day for their March 2008 liftoff. From left are: Mission specialists Rick Linnehan, Takao Doi, Robert Behnken and Mike Foreman, pilot Gregory H. Johnson, mission specialist, Garrett Reisman and commander Dominic Gorie.
Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.

The seven astronauts set to rocket spaceward aboard NASA’s shuttle Endeavour next week are a varied crew of experienced veterans and first-time flyers.

Commanded by three-time spaceflyer Dominic Gorie, Endeavour’s STS-123 crew is gearing up for a predawn launch toward the International Space Station (ISS) on March 11 to deliver a new Japanese storage room and Canadian robot to the orbiting laboratory. There are four rookies on the flight, though Gorie and two veteran spaceflyers have seven spaceflights under their collective belt.

“I would say it’s like a winning athletic team,” Gorie said. “They mix together well, they know their roles and we win.”

Endeavour’s astronauts will set a new record for the longest construction mission ever launched to the ISS during their planned 16-day spaceflight. No less than five spacewalks are scheduled to install the first module of Japan’s massive Kibo station lab, deliver Canada’s two-armed maintenance robot Dextre and test a shuttle heat shield repair method among other tasks.

Gorie said his crew is up to the challenge of what promises to be an exciting, yet busy, two weeks at the ISS.

“I’m really looking forward to working with these guys for a great bunch of days,” Gorie said.

Here’s a brief look at Endeavour’s seven-astronaut crew:

The commander

Hailing from Lake Charles, La., Gorie is a retired U.S. Navy captain who was selected for NASA’s astronaut corps in 1994 and first launched into space aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1998. He is making his fourth spaceflight on STS-123.

But the goals of his upcoming fourth spaceflight aim even higher, he said.

“The complexity…is unprecedented,” Gorie, 50, said of the upcoming mission. “I haven’t seen anything like this before and haven’t been part of anything like it, for sure.”

With STS-123, Gorie will make his third consecutive launch aboard the space shuttle Endeavour.

“If I could pick a shuttle, it would have to be Endeavour,” Gorie said, lauding the work of shuttle workers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “It’s a great space ship and I’ve never had any issue with it. It would be my shuttle of choice.”

A seasoned Navy aviator and test pilot, Gorie flew 38 combat missions in Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s. He and wife, Wendy Lu, have a daughter, 18, and a son, 20.

The pilot

Riding in Endeavour’s pilot seat on launch day will be U.S. Air Force Col. Gregory H. Johnson, a first-time flyer who happens to be one of two Greg Johnsons in NASA’s astronaut corps.

“It’s been funny. I’ve gotten his boarding pass before and he’s gotten my hotel reservation,” Johnson said of himself and fellow shuttle pilot Gregory C. Johnson, who happened to be in the same astronaut class when they joined NASA in 1998. “He gets my e-mails, I get his. That’s part of life.”

Johnson, 45, goes by the call sign “Box” and remembers watching Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong walk on the moon from his grandparents’ home in Cairo, Mich. He joined NASA’s astronaut ranks in 1998 and participated in the agency’s investigation into the 2003 Columbia tragedy.

“I don’t think we forget risk anymore, or at least it’s certainly in the forefront of our minds,” said Johnson, adding that there will always be risks to shuttle flights. “Everything that has value has some risk, but I think that we’re really confident that we’ve uncovered most of the hazards and have controls for them.”

Johnson is a veteran F-15E Eagle fighter pilot and flew 61 combat missions during two deployments to Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s. He and his wife, Cari, have one daughter, 10, and two sons, ages 13 and 14.

Spacewalking chief

A veterinarian by training, Endeavour’s lead spacewalker Rick Linnehan joined NASA’s astronaut ranks in 1992 and performed life sciences experiments on his first two spaceflights before making three spacewalks to service the Hubble Space Telescope in 2002.

Growing up in Lowell, Mass., Linnehan was raised by his parental grandparents Henry and Mae Linnehan, whom he credited with setting him on a path to space.

“They instilled in me a really good work ethic. They were really old-fashioned,” said Linnehan, 50, who will participate in three STS-123 spacewalks. “Probably if it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

As a child, he hoped to be a pilot, astronaut or veterinarian, but it was while attending veterinary school that he applied to NASA’s spaceflying ranks.

“I started looking and they had doctors and they had geologists and physicists so I’m like, ‘Well, you know, they need a veterinarian because, you know, why not?’” Linnehan said.

Despite his surgical work to service Hubble, Linnehan finds the tricky assembly of Canada’s large Dextre robot as a more daunting task.

“We’re building this giant robot...it looks like some kind of old 1950s or ‘60s sci-fi movie,” said Linnehan, who likened Dextre to the cartoon ‘Gigantor, the Space Age Robot’ from his youth. “It’s pretty wild.”

Japan’s orbital deliveryman

Japanese astronaut Takao Doi, 53, is a mission specialist representing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) aboard Endeavour and will personally deliver his country’s first habitable module to the ISS. He is making his second spaceflight.

“I’m very proud to be part of this team and part of this mission,” Doi said.

[Click here for a full profile of Doi and JAXA’s Kibo storage module.]

Station’s strong-“arm” man

Spacewalker-to-be Robert Behnken, 37, is NASA’s youngest male astronaut making his first spaceflight on Endeavour’s mission. He will participate in three of the mission’s five spacewalks as well as wield the station’s robotic arm during the flight.

“I thought I would be more nervous about the flight,” said Behnken, a U.S. Air Force major with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, in a NASA interview as he thanked his instructors. “But the biggest feeling I have is just that sense of all the things that we need to pack into our heads.”

A native of St. Ann, Mo., Behnken said he is looking forward to spotting his hometown from space, as well as hunting for the many astronaut training sites located in the ISS partner nations.

Behnken is engaged to be married, and logged over 1,000 flight hours in more than 25 different aircraft types as a USAF flight test engineer.

Spacewalker debut

U.S. Navy Capt. Mike Foreman, 50, will also shed his rookie astronaut status when he launches aboard Endeavour. He is set to perform three of the flight’s five spacewalks and will help assemble the Dextre robot.

“That’ll be a success if we get that thing together,” Foreman, a native of Wadsworth, Ohio, said of the many-piece automaton. “It reminds be of being a dad on Christmas Eve, you know, opening up the presents and putting them together for your son or daughter and wondering what you got yourself into.”

He applied eight times to be a Navy test pilot, then seven more times to join the astronaut corps before he was selected in 1998.

“I was eight when I decided to be an astronaut, about 41 when I finally got selected and now I’m 50 and going on my first mission,” Foreman said. “Keep the target in front of you.”

A veteran Navy aviator, Foreman served as the technical lead for NASA’s advanced orbiter cockpit project and logged more than 5,000 hours in over 50 different aircraft. He and his wife, Lorrie, have two sons, ages 23 and 19, and a daughter, 15.

Station’s newest tenant

Rounding out Endeavour’s crew is first-time flyer Garrett Reisman, who is taking a one-way trip to the space station to join the orbiting laboratory’s Expedition 16 crew. He will relieve French astronaut Leopold Eyharts aboard the station and perform one of the STS-123 spacewalks.

“For me, it’s kind of like playing the Super Bowl and then going about with the regular season for the next couple of months,” said Reisman, 40. “It’s just been a wonderful experience.”

Hailing from Parsippany, N.J., Reisman is a mechanical engineer and joined NASA’s spaceflying ranks in 1998. He will spend about two months on the ISS and join the outpost’s incoming Expedition 17 crew in April before returning aboard NASA’s shuttle Discovery in early June.

Tucked among his belongings aboard Endeavour will be a personal token of a childhood friend who died during the World Trade Center attacks in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, Reisman said.

“I contacted his family, who I haven’t spoken to in decades … and they gave me a personal effect of his that I could take along as a remembrance,” he added.

Reisman said he, his wife, Simone, and their cat Fuzzy are looking forward to his coming spaceflight. His wife, he added, is an oceanographer, avid diver and a private pilot.

“She would be strapping herself into the space shuttle right next to be given half a chance,” said Reisman. “So she understands what this is all about and she’s very excited about it too.”