The next chapter in Georgia Tech’s long history in space began Wednesday morning, October 19, on a launch pad in Kazakhstan.
Shane Kimbrough (MSOR 98) settled into his seat aboard a Soyuz spacecraft with two Russian cosmonauts bound for the International Space Station (ISS) for a four-month mission that will include science experiments, spacewalks, and visits from several commercial and international resupply vehicles.
Kimbrough had countless thoughts running through his mind while counting down to Wednesday's 4:05 a.m. (EST) lift-off. Systems checks. Equipment. The months to come. But what weighed on him most is family.
“I already miss them,” Kimbrough said during an interview with Georgia Tech last month from Star City, Russia.
It was the second time this summer Kimbrough talked with Georgia Tech, and both times, when asked about the preparation for such a long mission, he quickly mentioned his wife and three children. He’s missing his twin daughters’ first semesters at college this fall and much of his son’s junior year of high school in the Houston, TX, area.
“Being a military officer, deployments and being gone are nothing new,” said Kimbrough, who served in Operation Desert Storm and is a retired Army colonel. “But I’m realizing that it’s not any easier. In fact, it’s probably harder because of the age of my kids.”
This is Kimbrough’s second trip to space. He flew in 2008 aboard the space shuttle Endeavour for a 16-day mission, far different from the four months or so he’ll spend away from family during this trek. But in a few ways, the missions are similar. The main job for his shuttle mission was to deliver and install equipment that expanded ISS living quarters to accommodate a six-person crew. Three people are already on the space station, so Kimbrough and his crewmates will make six when they arrive on Friday.
Also, just like in 2008, Kimbrough is scheduled for two spacewalks, tentatively set for January.
This time, however, his main mission on the station is to conduct the science experiments.
“A lot of the experiments will be done on our bodies,” he said. “For instance, we’re going to look at mini-exercise devices. In order to get to places like Mars, we’ll need to develop really small things to put in capsules. I’m one of the first people to get to try them, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Kimbrough is one of two Georgia Tech alumni selected to live on the ISS this year. Tim Kopra (MSAE 95) was commander of the station for four of his six months in orbit (he left in June). Kimbrough will assume command at the end of the month.
Kimbrough grew up in Smyrna, GA, attending Georgia Tech football and basketball games. His plan was to play baseball at Tech, but life took him to the United States Military Academy after President Ronald Reagan wrote an appointment letter on his behalf. He earned an aerospace engineering degree at West Point, served in Operation Desert Storm, and eventually came back to campus to study operations research in the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
“It was nice to be home after moving around so much while in the military,” Kimbrough said. “I always wanted to be an astronaut, but it’s such a long shot to be chosen. When I look back on it, having a master’s degree from Georgia Tech was a huge stepping stone.”
The next step takes him 210 miles above Earth to an orbiting lab that moves 17,000 miles per hour. Fortunately, he’ll have a few reminders of home. He’s bringing a flag that waved on the Ramblin’ Wreck. He’s also taking a camera and plans to snap photos of Georgia Tech and other schools he attended.
“I’ll also have a few Tech football games piped up to the station. That will keep me going.”
(You can follow Kimbrough on Twitter and Instagram @astro_kimbrough).
Georgia Tech has produced 14 astronauts, tied for second-most among public universities. They include John Young (BSAE 52), who walked on the moon and was on the first space shuttle, and Sandy Magnus (Ph.D. MSE 96), who flew on the last one. When Kimbrough flew on Endeavour in 2008, he was joined by Magnus and Eric Boe (MSEE 97).