On January 13, 1993, NASA mission STS-54 launched from Kennedy Space Center. Aboard that flight was astronaut Susan Helms.
Before joining NASA Susan Helms was an accomplished Flight Test Engineer and project officer in the United States Air Force, flying over 30 different types of military aircraft. She had graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1980 with a degree in aeronautical engineering. She received a master’s degree in aeronautics/astronautics from Stanford University in 1985. She was selected to join NASA in 1990 and became an astronaut in 1991.
Helm’s first space flight was aboard the Endeavour. The primary objective of this mission was the deployment of a $200 million NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite. While in space the crew interacted with an audience of U.S. elementary students to demonstrate physics principles of toys.
In September 1994 Helms logged her second space flight, this time aboard the shuttle Discovery where she served as flight engineer for orbiter operations and the primary Remote Manipulator. This flight was followed with a sixteen day mission aboard the shuttle Columbia in 1996. She served as the payload commander and flight engineer on this mission that was the first to combine both a comprehensive life science investigation and a full panel of microgravity studies.
May 2000 was her fourth flight into space where she performed critical repairs to help extend the life of the Functional Cargo Block on the International Space Station and was responsible for the onboard computer network and served as the mission specialist for rendezvous with the ISS.
For her final flight into space Helms was a member of Expedition 2 that comprised the second crew aboard the International Space Station Alpha, arriving by the shuttle Discovery in March 2001. It was during her stay on the ISS that she logged the longest “spacewalk” in history of eight hours and fifty six minutes in order to perform work on the external body of one of the modules. Helms was aboard the ISS for a total of 163 days returning on the shuttle Discovery in August 2001, and logged a total of 5,064 hours in space.
Helms spent 12 years with NASA and in 2002 returned to duty with the U.S. Air Force until 2014 when she retired after achieving the rank of lieutenant general.
Written by Angela Goad.