HOUSTON, April 13, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- A native Houstonian is set to take command of the International Space Station for the first time in its 20-plus-year history.
Shannon Walker, a veteran astronaut who was born, raised, and earned all three of her science degrees in Houston, will accept command of the space station on Thursday, April 15, in a ceremony that will be broadcast live on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency's website beginning at 2:45 p.m. CDT.
"Having the Johnson Space Center here in my backyard growing up, I was always aware of what NASA was doing in the space program," Walker said. "I'm so proud to represent my hometown on the International Space Station where we conduct scientific research that can benefit all of humankind."
With operations led from the Mission Control Center at NASA'S Johnson Space Center in Houston, which is also home to the astronaut corps, the space station has continuously hosted international teams of astronauts since 2000.
"We like to call Johnson Space Center the home of the astronauts, and all of them live here while they're training and supporting human spaceflight," said Johnson Director Mark Geyer. "But in Shannon's case, she's a homegrown Houstonian, and we couldn't be prouder for our community to have her representing Space City as commander of the space station."
Walker is a member of NASA's SpaceX Crew-1 mission that flew to the space station on the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft, the first commercial human spacecraft system. She and her fellow Crew-1 astronauts joined Expedition 64 upon their arrival and are nearing completion of a six-month science mission that included science and research investigations. Walker and the Expedition 64 crew worked on a number of experiments, including tissue chips that mimic the structure and function of human organs to understand the role of microgravity on human health and diseases and translate those findings to improve human health on Earth. Astronauts also grew radishes in different types of light and soils as part of ongoing efforts to produce food in space, and tested a new system to remove heat from spacesuits.
Walker attended Westbury High School (formerly Westbury Senior High), Meyerland Visual and Performing Arts Middle School (formerly Johnston Junior High and later Johnston Middle School), and Parker Elementary, all in Houston Independent School District. Walker said that she had engaging teachers whose high expectations fueled her space ambitions. She graduated with a bachelor of arts in physics from Rice University in 1987 and later returned to complete her master of science in 1992 and a PhD in space physics in 1993.
She joined NASA in 1987 as a Robotics Flight Controller for the Space Shuttle Program. She began work on the International Space Station Program in 1995, and was selected to become an astronaut in 2004. Walker completed her first spaceflight in 2010 for Expeditions 24 and 25 to the International Space Station.
Command will officially transfer to her when the off-going commander, Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergey Ryzhikov, departs the station. Ryzhikov and fellow cosmonaut Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, along with NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, will begin the journey back to Earth in their Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft on April 16.
Walker is scheduled to join Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Soichi Noguchi aboard Resilience on Wednesday, April 28, and depart the station for return to Earth.
For more than 20 years, humans have continuously lived and worked aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies that enable us to prepare for human exploration to the Moon and Mars. The orbiting laboratory has been a destination for 243 people from 19 countries and has hosted nearly 3,000 research investigations from researchers in 108 countries and areas.