Space physicist Dr. Shannon Walker has a second distinction that sets her apart even from the small group of people that have traveled to space: in addition to being an astronaut she is also an aquanaut.
After earning her bachelor’s degree from Rice University she began working with Rockwell Space Operations Company, a contractor at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, in 1987. As a robotics flight controller in the Mission Control Center she worked for the Space Shuttle program on numerous missions. Taking a leave of absence she returned to Rice to earn graduate degrees in space physics culminating in a doctorate in 1993.
Returning to NASA two years later she began working as part of the International Space Station program at JSC in the area of robotics integration. In 1999 she was invited to work with the Russian Space Agency on several aspects of the ISS and spent a year working in Russia, returning to the U.S. to fill the role of the technical lead for the ISS Mission Evaluation Room and as the Deputy Manager of the On-Orbit Engineering Office.
Selected in 2004 to complete astronaut candidate training, she became qualified to fly aboard the space shuttle and the ISS as well as participating in Extravehicular Activity (EVA) skills. Starting her training for an extended stay in space in 2007, she learned to serve as a flight-engineer, or co-pilot, for the Soyuz craft that was used as part of Expedition 24/25 which launched June 15 returning to Earth November 23, 2010 spending a total of 161 days on the ISS. While on the ISS she performed material science experiments as well as ongoing research on the effects of prolonged life in space on the human body.
It was just the next year when she was selected by NASA to command the NEEMO 15 undersea exploration mission aboard the Aquarius underwater laboratory whose mission was originally slated to run from October 17-30 but was cut short by Hurricane Rita. But as the crew spent over 24 hours underwater they earned the official designation as aquanauts.
Written by Angela Goad