Astronaut Susan Helms (Lieutenant General, USAF, Ret.) is a retired Astronaut, Flight Test Engineer and military officer.
After receiving her B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from the US Air Force Academy (’80), Helms served in a number of technical assignments, including as an exchange officer with the Canadian Forces at CFB Cold Lake, Alberta. She also received her M.S in Aero/Astro from Stanford University (’85) and graduated from the USAF Test Pilot School as a Flight Test Engineer (‘88A) Prior to her selection for NASA, Helms had flown in more than 30 US and Canadian aircraft. While at NASA (1990-2002), Helms flew on 5 space missions, including a 5+ month stay on the International Space Station in 2001.
Helms’s first flight was STS-54, aboard Endeavour, a 6-day mission that deployed a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite and utilized an X-ray spectrometer in the payload bay to gather information that allowed investigators to further understand the origins of the Milky Way Galaxy.
On STS-64, a 12-day mission aboard Discovery, Helms served as the primary operator of the Robotics Manipulator System (RMS – aka the ‘robotic arm’) and served as the Flight Engineer (MS-2) for orbiter operations. Among other mission tasks, Helms released and recaptured 2 days later the Shuttle Pointed Autonomous Research Tool for Astronomy-201 (SPARTAN-201) free flyer, using the RMS.
Helms then flew a 17-day mission on Columbia for STS-78 as both Payload Commander and Flight Engineer (MS-2), a shuttle first. The mission included studies sponsored by ten countries and fiver different space agencies and was the first mission to combine both a full agenda of microgravity studies along with a comprehensive investigation of the human body in space. This mission served as a model for future studies aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
In 2000, Helms and her ISS-2 crew were assigned to a quick notice mission (9 weeks) on Atlantis, dedicated to the delivery and repair of critical hardware for ISS. Helms had prime responsibility for critical repairs to extend the life of the Functional Cargo Block (FGB – a crucial Russian Segment of ISS) as well as prime responsibility of the onboard computer network.
Helms served as a Flight Engineer on the International Space Station for Expedition 2 (ISS-2) from March 8 – August 22, 2001. During her increment, Helms installed the airlock using the Space Station Robotics Manipulation System (SSRMS), and welcomed the visiting Soyuz crew that included the first space tourist, Dennis Tito. Numerous ‘firsts’ for the ISS were accomplished during this mission, including the first “fly around” of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to a different docking port. Shortly after docking to the ISS for this mission, Helms and her ISS-2 crewmate, Jim Voss, performed a world-record 8 hour and 56 minute Extravehicular Activity (EVA – aka ‘spacewalk’) during which they installed critical hardware to the outside of the space station, one of many ISS assembly missions.
After her career at NASA, Helms returned to the US Air Force (USAF) where she took a Division Chief position at Headquarters for USAF Space Command in Colorado Springs, CO. She also served as the Vice Commander of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base and Deputy Director of Operations for Air Education and Training Command at Randolph Air Force Base. As a General Officer, Helms has served as the Commander of the 45th Space Wing, Director of Plans and Policy for US Strategic Command, and was dual-hatted as Commander, 14th Air Force (Air Forces Strategic), Air Force Space Command and Commander, Joint Functional Component Command for Space, US Strategic Command, both at Vandenberg AFB, CA.