Alums Greg Chamitoff and Rick Sturckow Continue To Leave This Planet Behind
By Scott Roark
Space Shuttle Discovery, piloted by Cal Poly alum Rick Sturckow, lands last year after a trip to the International Space Station.
All photos courtesy of NASA.
Chances are you’ve watched science fiction movies with astronauts flying spaceships from Earth, living on space stations and admiring the view of our planet.
That science fiction is now science fact, as Greg Chamitoff (EE ’84) and Rick Sturckow (ME ’84) can both personally attest. The two astronauts have been among NASA’s stars recently. And new adventures are on the horizon, with both involved in the final missions of the historic space shuttle program.
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Chamitoff, who lived on the International Space Station (ISS) for nearly six months in 2008, is now going back, scheduled to launch on shuttle mission STS-134 this July to deliver an Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). The AMS is a $2 billion physics experiment built by 15 countries to examine fundamental issues about matter and the origin and structure of the universe. The shuttle mission will also deliver micro-meteorite shields and spare parts for Dexter, a robot on the outside of the station that acts as the “hand and fingers” for routine exterior maintenance.
Chamitoff will not stay on the ISS during this mission. However, he will perform his first spacewalk outside the station, an experience he calls “a lifelong dream.” He will return to Earth after 10 days. The flight is one of the last in the shuttle program, scheduled to be decommissioned this year. Russian Soyuz rockets will be the primary mode of transportation for all trips to the ISS after the shuttle program is shut down.
The Montreal native was selected to become an astronaut in 1998 and qualified for his flight assignment as mission specialist in 2000. As an undergraduate student at Cal Poly, Chamitoff taught lab courses in circuit design and worked summer internships at Atari Computers and IBM.
Cal Poly alum Greg Chamitoff plays Superman aboard
the International Space Station during a previous extended stay.
Meanwhile, Sturckow has been the commander and pilot of four shuttle missions -- the most recent last year aboard the shuttle Discovery on a supply mission that delivered, among other things, a treadmill to the ISS that was named after popular television comedian Stephen Colbert.
Sturckow’s first journey into the heavens was a historic mission in 1998, behind the throttle of Space Shuttle Endeavour.
The shuttle was carrying the first two modules of the International Space Station, later joined together in orbit. Each circular module is 45 feet in length, 15 feet in diameter with windows to admire the view. Additional modules were later connected during subsequent missions. Solar panels provide power. A crew has permanently manned the station since 2000.
Sturckow is still playing an active role at NASA, now serving as a CAPCOM, or capsule communicator, for Mission Control. He acts as the “voice” for the flight control team on the ground when talking to an onboard crew.
The Lakeside, Calif. Native came to Cal Poly because of off-road racing, competing in professional off-road races in Arizona, Nevada, and Baja California and gaining experience in leadership and project management. He joined the Marines after graduating, serving as an F/A-18 test pilot before he became an astronaut.
Sturckow during training.
Chamitoff and Sturckow are two of the three Cal Poly alums who have soared into the heavens. Robert “Hoot” Gibson (AERO ’69) flew on five space shuttle missions between 1984 and 1995, the last one as commander on the first shuttle mission to dock with Mir, the Russian Space Station. Gibson retired from NASA in 1996.