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A giant leap for MIT: 4 alumni-astronauts will simultaneously be in orbit

NASA Astronaut Greg Chamitoff PhD '92 catches a meal near the galley of the International Space Station. Michael Fincke '89 will be joining him shortly.
Caption:
NASA Astronaut Greg Chamitoff PhD '92 catches a meal near the galley of the International Space Station. Michael Fincke '89 will be joining him shortly.
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Photo courtesy / NASA

In November, as more than 120,000 MIT graduates roam the earth below, four of their fellow alumni will, for the first time in history, be simultaneously traveling in space.

Michael Fincke '89 began his ascent into space aboard the Soyuz space capsule, which launched on Oct. 12. Fincke, commander of the Expedition 18 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), will spend the next six months aboard the ISS and meet up with colleague Gregory Chamitoff PhD '92, who has served as a flight engineer and science officer on the ISS since June.

On Nov. 14, mission specialists Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper '84 and Stephen Bowen ENG '93 will also head to the ISS via Shuttle Mission STS-126. Piper, Bowen and the rest of the crew plan to deliver equipment that will enable larger crews to reside aboard the complex.

Two MIT astronauts have been in space at the same time on several other occasions -- during seven space shuttle missions and one Apollo mission -- but this is the first time four have been gravity-free at once.

STS-126 is scheduled to launch on Nov. 14, in place of an 11-day Hubble servicing mission originally scheduled for that date and which would have included alumni Michael Massimino SM '88, ENG '90, ME '90, PhD '92, and John Grunsfeld '80. However, a control system failure in the Hubble telescope delayed the mission's launch to no sooner than March of next year.

And, as though four alums in space weren't coincidence enough, the MIT Alumni Travel Program trip, "Inside the Russian Space Program," put even more alumni on the scene on Oct. 12. The travelers, who hail from MIT as well as Princeton University, were on hand in Kazakhstan to watch the launch of the Soyuz space capsule transporting fellow alums to the ISS.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 29, 2008 (download PDF).

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