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Space travel might be one giant leap for mankind, but it's just another day on the job for one of MIT's many astronauts.
Mission Specialist Wendy Lawrence, who received the S.M. degree in ocean engineering from MIT in 1988, began her fourth trip into space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on Tuesday, July 26.
Lawrence, 46, is one of seven astronauts on the Discovery crew. Eileen Collins is commander.
The Discovery team's overall goal is to evaluate new ways to inspect and ensure vehicle safety for future shuttle flights. The 12-day NASA mission is to end Monday, Aug. 8.
Lawrence, a U.S. Navy captain, is responsible for leading the transfer of equipment and supplies between the shuttle and the International Space Station.
The Discovery crew has recently undertaken delicate repair work. Yesterday, spacewalker Steve Robinson conducted the first-ever on-orbit repair of a space shuttle's heat shield by successfully removing gap fillers protruding from two areas between heat-shielding tiles. Engineers had feared that the errant gap fillers could cause turbulence and unwanted heating during the shuttle's re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere.
The tasks Lawrence will complete on Discovery are similar to those she did on two previous transfer missions to Mir, the Russian space station. Before this mission, she had flown into orbit three times-in June 1998, September 1997 and March 1995.
Prior to coming to MIT, Lawrence attended the U.S. Naval Academy, earning a bachelor's degree in ocean engineering in 1981. She became a naval aviator in 1982 and has since flown more than 1,500 hours in six different types of helicopters and has made more than 800 shipboard landings. She first joined NASA in 1992, when she underwent training to become a mission specialist. She is a marathon runner and a triathlete.
MIT has 32 alumni astronauts (as of July 2004), among them Buzz Aldrin (Sc.D. 1963), Franklin Chang-Diaz (Sc.D. 1977) and Ronald McNair (Ph.D. 1976). McNair died on Jan. 28, 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.
There are also two former astronauts on the MIT faculty: Jeff Hoffman, who flew on five shuttle missions, and Laurence Young (S.B. 1957, Ph.D. 1962), who was alternate payload specialist during the October 1993 Columbia mission.
For a complete listing of all MIT astronauts or for more stories on MIT astronauts please see the list compiled by the MIT Club of South Texas.