June 12, 2007 -- University of Virginia alumnus Patrick Forrester is one of the seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis on its current mission to the International Space Station.
Now in mission day five, Forrester has already helped unload the shuttle's heaviest-ever payload—giant solar panel trusses weighing 17.8 tons (35,678 pounds) that are being connected to the space station.
Forrester, who earned his master of science degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering in 1989 from U.Va.’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, will make the mission's second spacewalk on Wednesday, June 13, scheduled from 2:03 p.m. to 8:33 p.m. EDT. NASA TV will provide live coverage of the spacewalk (see below for details).
Forrester is a Mission Specialist 1 and a robotics operator. He used a robotic crane arm to remove the bus-sized solar panel trusses from the shuttle and hand them off to the space station robotic arm.
"The truss is kind of the backbone of the space station, and it’s at the end of the truss that we have our solar arrays and that’s what we use to provide energy, collecting it from the sun and then transferring into the station for power," Forrest explained in an interview published on the NASA Web site.
After entering orbit, the shuttle crew discovered that a section of insulation blanket had pulled away from adjacent thermal tiles. In response, mission control has extended the mission by two days and added an additional (fourth) spacewalk to the original schedule in order to repair the insulation blanket. Forrester and his spacewalk partner, Mission Specialist Steve Swanson, will perform the fourth spacewalk, scheduled for Sunday, June 20, from 12:38 p.m. to 7:08 p.m. NASA is expected to announce today at 6 p.m. whether the third or fourth spacewalk will be assigned to repair the blanket.
"Space walking is the ultimate astronaut experience," said former astronaut Kathy Thornton, now associate dean and professor of Science, Technology and Society in U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science. "Unfortunately there is usually very little time to enjoy the grandeur of the view and or to really appreciate that you are—for that brief time—a completely autonomous satellite of the Earth," she continued. "Time goes by so fast and the tasks are so critical to mission success that it is all business out there. Only later do you realize how extraordinary the experience was."
Forrest said that when he was first selected as an astronaut, crews were being named to begin the assembly of the space station and he was disappointed that he might have missed the chance to participate in that project.
"I remember being so disappointed thinking, wow, I missed it. You know, that was the thing that I wanted to do was to build the space station," he said. "We knew we had our training ahead of us and a lot of folks in the Office, and surely it would be built by the time I was trained and ready to fly in space. And to think back on that now and kind of smile and to know that even 10 years later I’m still having a chance to do that is really a lot of fun."
Space shuttle Atlantis is carrying an almost 400-year-old metal cargo tag from historic Jamestown, Va., in honor of the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first permanent English settlement in the Americas in 1607. After its roundtrip flight to the space station, NASA will return the shipping tag to Jamestown for public display.
Forrester is one of four former and current astronauts that have graduated from U.Va.
INFORMATION FOR THE MEDIA:
LIVE VIDEO AND AUDIO FEEDS, including of the spacewalk, are available through NASA:
New images from the mission:
NASA bio and high-resolution image of Forrester:
NASA media kit for mission (on right side):
Contacting Forrester will not be possible until approximately two weeks after landing, the week of July 2-6. For post-mission interviews, contact Gayle Frere at Johnson Space Center at (281) 483-5111.
Former astronaut Kathy Thornton, now associate dean and professor of Science, Technology and Society in U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science, is available to comment on Forrester's experience. She can be reached at (434) 982-3079.
NASA background information and high-resolution images are at: