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Andrew Feustel, a Purdue University alumnus and NASA astronaut, is scheduled to make three spacewalks during a space shuttle mission to the International Space Station this month.
The 14-day mission, scheduled to launch April 29, will deliver an instrument called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which is a sophisticated particle physics detector, and other components including communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank, spare parts for the two-armed Dextre robot and micrometeoroid debris shields.
"It's an amazing chapter for me personally," said Feustel, who first flew on the shuttle during the final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission in 2009. "To be lucky enough to see Hubble and the space station is pretty remarkable."
He is scheduled to lead three out of four spacewalks to perform critical installations and maintenance. Astronauts on shuttle missions are well-suited to perform certain spacewalking tasks instead of space station residents because their practice sessions on Earth are more recent and focus on specific jobs.
Spacewalking tasks for a shuttle crew vary from mission to mission. The spacewalkers on this flight, compared to those on the Hubble mission, will need to cover more ground while performing their space station duties, Feustel said.
"The Hubble work required more detailed, fine-motor-skills, whereas the space station work involves larger objects," he said.
This flight is scheduled to be the penultimate space shuttle mission, as the spacecrafts' storied history draws to a close after 30 years.
Purdue President France A. Córdova, a former NASA chief scientist, said the mission to the space station demonstrates Purdue's continued contributions to the U.S. space program.
"The space station is a symbol of international cooperation to further human exploration, and it has been crucial for advancing scientific research in a microgravity environment and testing systems that will be needed for missions to the moon and Mars," Córdova said. "Purdue alumni have served on previous missions to the space station, and Purdue faculty have performed many experiments in microgravity, aiding research in disciplines ranging from biology to physics."
The shuttle Endeavour will remain docked to the station for nine days, with its six-person crew working with the station's six personnel. Following Endeavour's departure, the crew will re-approach the station to test a new sensor technology that will make it easier and safer for spacecraft to rendezvous and dock to the International Space Station.
One additional mission, the 135th in the shuttle program, is scheduled before the fleet is retired from service. The final mission is targeted for June 28 to deliver supplies and spare parts to the space station.
To date, 22 Purdue alumni have been chosen for spaceflight, including Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, and Eugene Cernan, the most recent to do so. In addition, Scott Tingle, who earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering in 1988, will soon complete his astronaut training.
Feustel, 45, earned a bachelor's degree in solid earth sciences in 1989 and a master's degree in geophysics in 1991, both from Purdue, and a doctoral degree in geological sciences from Queen's University, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, in 1995.
Purdue holds a special place in the Feustel family legacy. His great-great-uncle graduated from Purdue in 1905, followed by his father and uncle. His wife and her sister also earned Purdue degrees.
He joins a crew of commander Mark Kelly, pilot Greg H. Johnson and mission specialists Michael Fincke, Roberto Vittori and Greg Chamitoff.
Feustel is married to Indira Devi Bhatnagar, whom he met while both were graduate students at Purdue. They have two children.
Feustel specializes in seismology in underground mines and measurement techniques and applications in site characterization. For three years he worked as a geophysicist for the Engineering Seismology Group in Kingston, Ontario, installing and operating microseismic monitoring equipment in underground mines throughout Eastern Canada and the United States. In 1997 Feustel began working for the Exxon Mobil Exploration Co. in Houston as an exploration geophysicist designing and providing operational oversight of land, marine and borehole seismic programs worldwide.
A native of Lake Orion, Mich., he was an exploration geophysicist in the petroleum industry at the time of his selection by NASA.