Queen's University

It's a go: Queen's astronaut is in orbit

 
2009-05-11

Queen’s alumnus Andrew Feustel (PhD ’95) blasted into space at 2:01 pm EDT on Monday, May 11, as part of the seven-member crew on the space shuttle Atlantis – the final shuttle mission to service NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Originally scheduled for May 12, the flight began with a picture-perfect liftoff and entered orbit nine minutes later.

During the 11-day mission, astronauts will install two new instruments, repair two inactive ones and perform the component replacements that will keep the telescope functioning into at least 2014.

For Dr. Feustel, a graduate of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering, it was the realization of a lifelong dream. After a grueling selection process, nine years of training, numerous delays and a nerve-wracking, last-minute cancellation last fall, he said in a pre-flight interview from the Johnson Space Center in Houson that he was excited and fully prepared mentally.

Safely stowed away in the shuttle’s storage bay is a specially-designed banner depicting Queen’s landmark street sign at the corner of University and Union, as viewed from outside the Earth’s atmosphere. The banner proclaims: “Engaging the world … and beyond!”

Although he won’t be able to unfurl the banner during the mission, Dr. Feustel notes that it will have spent 11 days in space, along with the crew. “And after we return to Earth, I intend to deliver it to the university,” he adds. On an earlier flight, in 1999, Canadian astronaut and Queen’s honorary graduate Julie Payette carried a silkscreen image of the newly-established Chancellor’s Research Award aboard the Shuttle Discovery. It now hangs in the John Reid Bain Periodicals Room in Douglas Library.

After completing his PhD in Mining Seismology under the supervision of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering professors Herb Helmstaedt and Paul Young, Dr. Feustel worked for the Kingston-based Engineering Seismology Group. It was that experience, installing and operating monitoring equipment in a variety of mines, which he now credits as being critical to his success at NASA as an astronaut.

“Learning how to adapt to confined spaces and claustrophobic environments, and understanding your safety and survival needs there, proved to be a great benefit in my training for the space program,” he says. From exploring the underground depths of North American mines, Dr. Feustel moved to a “neutral buoyancy lab” (a huge pool) in the Johnson Space Centre, where astronauts-in-training wear pressurized suits to practice the manoeuvres they will execute in space.

Although at age 43 he’s a little older than many others on their first flight, the Queen’s astronaut takes this factor in stride. “People can have valuable and contributing space careers well into their sixties,” he notes. “So I’ve still got some time! The job is an extremely nice one to have, and it’s a real privilege to have this opportunity.”

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