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Astronauts Born in Virginia

astronuat in space

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first humans to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969. The  National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) continues to shoot for the stars, sending more humans to space to better understand our planet and beyond. 10 astronauts started their journey in the “Old Dominion” before embarking on a bold mission to the cosmos.

Leland Melvin, Lynchburg

Melvin never seems to let setbacks get in his way. In 1986, the  University of Richmondgraduate was drafted in the NFL, but two hamstring injuries cut his professional football career short. He pursued his other passion — science — and was selected to be an astronaut for NASA. Sadly, after suffering an injury during training that affected his hearing, Melvin was  told he may never fly in space. Melvin first launched into space in  February 2008 on.

Ken Bowersox, Portsmouth

The retired U.S. Naval Aviator spent over 211 days in space, including five and a half months on the International Space Station. Bowersox is featured in a number of documentaries about NASA and voyages to space, racking up a fairly decent IMDb page that includes an episode of Home Improvement, “Tool-Thousand-One: A Space Odyssey.”

Joe Edwards, Richmond

Before embarking into the final frontier, Edwards was a naval aviator and test pilot, flying over 25 different aircraft. In 1994, Edwards was accepted into NASA’s astronaut program. The pilot seemingly forgot about Earth’s gravity after spending about a week in space in 1998. He was holding a cup of lemonade when a doctor asked him to remove his shoes for a medical exam. Edwards took off his shoes, releasing the cup from his palms, where it came crashing down spilling it everywhere.

Mark Vande Hei, Falls Church

A retired U.S. Army Colonel, Vande Hei was a member of the 20th NASA astronaut class. He first launched into space in September 2017, serving as the Flight Engineer for the International Space Station (ISS). During the mission, he spent 168 days in space, performing four spacewalks outside the ISS to work on Canadarm2, the Canadian robotic arm on the Space Station. Vande Hei is currently the assistant to the chief astronaut for extravehicular activity and robotics

Peter Wisoff, Norfolk

After becoming an astronaut in 1991, Wisoff decided to keep NASA in the family, marrying fellow astronaut Tammy Jernigan. In 1992, the University of Virginia graduate visited Norfolk schools, informing students (and possibly, future astronauts) about how the space program will be sending people to Mars in the following decades

Dr. Robert Satcher, Hampton

From medicine to chemical engineering to a far-off galaxy, Satcher has a wide range of interests. Satcher was an assistant professor in orthopedic surgery and adjunct professor for biomedical engineering at Northwestern University, where he was encouraged to chase his lifelong dream, exploring space. In 2004, he joined NASA, becoming the  first orthopedic surgeon in space

John Phillips, Fort Belvoir

The former Naval Aviator spent over  203 days in space. He is the first person to testify before the  U.S. Congress while in orbit, advocating for the Space Station’s role in preparing humans for longer missions. After a mission in 2005, Phillips experienced blurry vision. NASA determined his vision changed from a  perfect 20/20 to 20/100, marking the initial discovery of a mysterious syndrome which weakens some astronauts’ vision. Now, researchers believe it’s caused by “the liquid sloshing around the brain building up where it shouldn’t,  squishing their eyeballs until they flatten.” The condition, visual impairment intracranial pressure, affects nearly two-thirds of astronauts who spent extended periods of time on the ISS.

William Oefelein, Fort Belvoir

Oefelein is a survivor. The former Naval Aviator survived a mission to space, a plane crash, and an infamous “ love triangle.” Fellow astronaut Lisa Nowak,  Oefelein’s former girlfriend, tried to kidnap Oefelein’s current girlfriend, U.S. Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman. Nowak drove nearly 1,000 miles, from Texas to Florida, wearing diapers so she wouldn’t have to stop. In the following months, NASA  reassigned Oefelein to the Navy, terminating his tenure with the space organization.

David Brown, Arlington County

Before heading to NASA, Brown was a member of the College of William and Mary gymnastics team. The gymnast went on to perform as an acrobat, unicyclist, and stilt walker in the Circus Kingdom. In 1996, he switched gears, applied, and was selected to be an astronaut candidate, qualifying as a pilot. Brown’s first space flight was on  Columbia in 2003. As the Space Shuttle  re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, it disintegrated, killing Brown and his six fellow crew members.       

Guy Gardner, Alta Vista

Test pilot, astronaut, hiker, author – just some of the ways to describe Gardner. Gardner nicknamed “ AstroGuy” was an astronaut for 11 years, piloting  two Space Shuttle missions. In 2014, he backpacked the 2,180-mile long Appalachian Trail,  writing a book about his experience.   



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