Susan J. Helms is an accomplished astronaut with five space flights, logging over 5,064 hours in space. She holds the world’s record for the longest space walk of 8 hours and 56 minutes. Helms was born on 26 February 1958, in Charlotte, North Carolina, but considers Portland, Oregon, her hometown. Helms received her interest in flight from her parents, Lieutenant Colonel Pat (USAF, Retired) and Dori Helms. Since junior high school, Col Helms desired to attend the US Air Force Academy, but public law prohibited the admittance of women to the service academies. However, during her senior year of high school, the law was changed, she applied and was accepted.
Helms was a member of the class of 1980, the first graduating class to commission women. Helms’ Air Force career began with assignments as an F-15/F-16 weapons separation engineer and ultimately attended graduate school at Stanford University. Next, she was assigned as an assistant professor of aeronautics at the US Air Force Academy and was selected to attend the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California, in 1988. She was then assigned as a USAF Exchange Officer to the Canadian Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment in Cold Lake, Alberta. As a flight test engineer, Helms has flown in 30 different types of US and Canadian military aircraft. She was selected by NASA for astronaut training in January 1990.
She flew a 6-day mission on Space Transportation System (STS)-54 Endeavour, in January 1993, deploying a $200 million NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite. Her next space mission was STS-64 Discovery in September 1994. On this flight, Helms served as the flight engineer for orbiter operations and the primary Remote Manipulator System operator aboard Discovery. On STS-78 Columbia, 20 June to 7 July 1996, Helms was the payload commander and flight engineer. This flight was the longest Space Shuttle mission to date-16 days, 21 hours, 48 minutes. STS-101 Atlantis, in May 2000, was a mission dedicated to the delivery and repair of critical hardware for the International Space Station.
On 8 March 2001, STS-102 Discovery launched carrying the Expedition-2 crew, two American astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut. Discovery delivered the crew to the International Space Station Alpha on 9 March 2001. Helms lived and worked onboard the space station for 163 days. She returned to earth with the STS-105 crew aboard Discovery on 22 August 2001. After a 12-year NASA career that included 211 days in space, Helms returned to the US Air Force in July 2002. As a brigadier general select, she is currently assigned to HQ Air Education and Training Command as the Deputy Director of Operations for Technical Training. She will take command of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick AFB, Florida, in June 2006.