U.Va. Engineering Alum Marshburn Launched Aboard Space Shuttle

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July 22, 2009 — Nearly two centuries of University of Virginia engineering blasted into space – in a sense – July 15 when NASA astronaut and U.Va. alumnus Thomas Marshburn carried a pewter medallion aboard the space shuttle Endeavour.

The medallion is stamped, "150 years of Engineering Education at the University of Virginia 1836-1986." The medallion is one of several produced in 1986 commemorating a century and a half since the founding of what is now the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Marshburn earned a master's degree in engineering physics at U.Va. in 1984.

He is the sixth U.Va. graduate to fly as a NASA astronaut. The others are Patrick Forrester, who earned a master's in engineering in 1989; the late Karl Henize, bachelor's in mathematics, 1947, and master's in astronomy, 1948; Leland Melvin, master's in engineering, 1991; Kathryn Thornton, Ph.D. in physics, 1979; and Peter Wisoff, bachelor's in physics, 1980. Each has carried a U.Va. memento – flags, banners, an honor pledge plaque, a brass trivet.

Entrepreneur Gregory Olsen, who earned a Ph.D. in engineering in 1971, also carried a U.Va. memento as a citizen space explorer during a mission to the International Space Station aboard a Russian spacecraft in 2004.

Some of these items are on display in Thornton Hall.

Thornton, now a U.Va. engineering professor, arranged to have the commemorative medallion sent to Marshburn for his mission. She said each astronaut is allowed to carry a few small items from organizations they care about or have been affiliated with.

Engineering professor George Cahen also has arranged to have items flown on space missions with U.Va. alums, including his former graduate student Melvin.

Marshburn's 16-day shuttle mission to the International Space Station is installing an external experiment platform on the Japanese Kibo research module, switching batteries on solar panels and delivering spare parts. Endeavor also has ferried flight engineer Timothy Kopra to the space station and will bring Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata back to Earth.

Marshburn was born in Statesville, N.C., in 1960 and graduated from high school in Atlanta. He earned a bachelor's degree in physics at Davidson College before coming to U.Va. to earn his master's degree. He earned a medical degree from Wake Forest University in 1989, and a master's degree in medical science from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in 1997.

Marshburn trained in emergency medicine at St. Vincent Hospital in Toledo and served there as a flight surgeon. He worked as an emergency room physician in Seattle before joining NASA in 1994 as a flight surgeon. From the ground, he has supported multiple missions to Russia's Mir space station and the International Space Station.

NASA selected Marshburn for astronaut training in 2004. The training included water and land survival, T-38 flight training and space shuttle and international space station systems. Marshburn became an astronaut in February 2006.

For more on Marshburn, visit here.

— By Fariss Samarrai