PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Col. Susan Helms was the first U.S. military woman in space in 1993, the first woman to inhabit the International Space Station in 2001, and she holds the world record, along with crewmate Army Col. Jim Voss, for the longest space walk of eight hours and 56 minutes, also in 2001. She is now the chief of the space control division at Air Force Space Command. (Courtesy photo)
Susan Helms lists "traveling" as one of her interests. It's quite an interest. On Jan. 13, 1993, Helms, then a U.S. Air Force major and a member of the space shuttle Endeavour crew, became the first U.S. military woman in space.
Helms was born in February 1958 in Charlotte, N.C. Her father is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. She graduated from Parkrose Senior High School in Portland, Ore., in 1976, received a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1980 and was awarded her master of science degree in aeronautics/astronautics from Stanford University in 1985.
She was assigned to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., as an F-16 weapons separations engineer with the Air Force Armament Laboratory. In 1982, she became the lead engineer for F-15 weapons separation. She became an assistant professor of aeronautics at the Academy in 1985. In 1987, Helms attended the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, Calif. After completing one year of training as a flight test engineer, Helms was assigned as a U.S. Air Force exchange officer to the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment, Canadian Forces Base, Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada, where she worked as a flight test engineer and project officer of the CF-18 aircraft. She was managing the development of a CF-18 flight control system simulation for the Canadian forces when selected for the astronaut program in January 1990.
She became an astronaut in July 1991. She is a veteran of five space flights, logging 5,064 hours in space, including an extravehicular activity, or "space walk" of 8 hours and 56 minutes, a world record to install hardware to the external body of the laboratory module. On STS-54, in 1993, Helms became the first U.S. military woman in space. This Endeavour space shuttle mission's primary objective was to deploy a $200 million NASA tracking and data relay satellite. She then served aboard the International Space Station as a member of the Expedition-2 crew in 2001. Helms lived and worked onboard the ISS as a member of the second crew to inhabit ISS Alpha. The crew (two American astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut) launched March 8, 2001 onboard STS-102 Discovery and successfully docked with the station March 9. Helms installed the airlock brought up on STS-104 mission using the space station robotic arm. She and her crewmates welcomed the visiting Soyuz crew that included the first space tourist. Helms spent a total of 163 days aboard the space station and returned to earth with the STS-105 crew aboard Discovery on Aug. 22, 2001, having traveled a long way from Charlotte, N.C.
After a 12-year NASA career that included 211 days in space, Helms returned to the U.S. Air Force in July 2002 to take a position at Air Force Space Command headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.
In 2006, she was promoted to brigadier general and commanded the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.
Sources compiled from Air Force News Agency and NASA.