Five rookies to embark on Kibo flight with Atlantis on STS-124

by Chris Bergin

Although the launch date for STS-124 may change pending outcome of the hail damage drama surrounding the current flight, a seven-member crew has been assigned – according to NASA memos acquired by this site this week and now confirmed by the agency – to what is expected to become the second shuttle mission of 2008.

Mark E. Kelly will command Atlantis, along with the assistance of pilot Kenneth T. Ham. Four mission specialists from NASA will also be onboard, when the venerable orbiter delivers the Japanese “Kibo” laboratory to the ISS.

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Breaking Global Flight Crew Assignements Update Pages, PRCB: Baseline STS-124 (ISS-1J) Flight Definition and Requirements Directive (FDRD) – Mission Overview, STS-124: Addition of a 7th Crewmember Presentation, Latest STS Flight Manifests. Latest ISS Memos – all available on L2.

Joining Ham and Kelly are Ronald J. Garan, Stephen J. Bowen, Karen L. Nyberg and Michael E. Fossum. Rounding out the crew will be Japanese mission specialist Akihiko Hoshide.

STS-124 was originally planned to carry a six-member crew. In order to add a seventh member to the roster, the planned ISS docking altitude was lowered and some of JAXA’s middeck cargo items were off-loaded to a preceding flight.

The composition of this crew clearly reflects the Flight Crew Operations Directorate’s obvious intention to give as many rookies as possible a chance for a flight, before the STS program ends in 2010. Ham, Garan, Bowen, Nyberg, and Hoshide are all first-time flyers from various classes of astronaut candidates. Hoshide is the first from the 2004 group to get a seat on the shuttle.

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The status of STS-124 pilot Ken Ham has been the subject of much discussion in the past. Before the STS-107 tragedy, he was supposed to fly with Pamela A. Melroy on the ULF-2 mission. However, due to the shake-up of crew assignments following the loss of Columbia, Ham was not considered for a mission – until now. 

His wife, Linda, was among a group of senior NASA engineers indirectly blamed for jinxing requests for satellite photos of Columbia’s damaged wing during the doomed STS-107 mission, and at the time there was even word Ken Ham might resign from NASA and leave Houston in order to be with his family.

Also noteworthy is Garan’s assignment as mission specialist. He was originally selected as a pilot astronaut in 2000. Reminiscent of what happened to David S. Griggs and Steven R. Nagel in 1985, both pilot astronauts made their first trips into space as mission specialists on satellite deployment missions 51-D and 51-G, respectively.

Although no specific rationale was given back then, Nagel believed this move was to generate early flight opportunities for unflown pilot astronauts awaiting assignments at that time – obviously a parallel to the current situation.

Both Garan and Nyberg served as Aquanauts on the NEEMO-9 and NEEMO-10 missions, respectively, to the Aquarius undersea lab. NEEMO is a joint project of NASA and NOAA. Bowen also has some sub-surface experience, as he became first Executive Officer aboard a U.S. Navy submarine shortly before being accepted into the astronaut program.

Although Hoshide did not join the ranks of international members in NASA’s astronaut corps before the year 2004, he was selected as an astronaut by NASDA in 1999 and even completed Soyuz-TMA flight engineer training in Russia.

The only veterans of the mission, Kelly and Fossum, were crew mates on STS-121 last year. Kelly was pilot of that mission. He also flew on a space station utilization flight in 2001, STS-108.

The seven members of the STS-124 crew will get a chance to make their mark in spaceflight history as their sortie can be considered a milestone mission. The delivery of the Kibo lab will bring the ISS a giant leap towards completion, and further Japanese items may be included as part of the 2J/A launch package.

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