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Two Embry-Riddle Alumni Astronauts Currently on 11-Day Mission to Space Station
Second Space Flight for Mission Specialists Alvin Drew and Nicole Stott
Daytona Beach, FL, March 1, 2011
Embry-Riddle alumni astronauts U.S. Air Force Col. B. Alvin Drew Jr. and Nicole P. Stott are currently serving as mission specialists on STS-133, the final mission of space shuttle Discovery. It is a landmark event for Embry-Riddle -- the first time that two of its alumni are serving together in space.
During the 11-day mission to the International Space Station, which began with a Feb. 24 launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the six-member Discovery crew will deliver a prototype human-like robot for long-term testing, a pressurized logistics module, critical spare components, and other equipment and supplies. Drew and a crewmate will perform two spacewalks to update and repair the ISS while Stott coordinates their activities from inside. In addition, Drew and Stott will operate Discovery’s robotic arm to perform tasks on the exterior of the space station.
On this next-to-last mission of the space shuttle program, the six-member Discovery crew will deliver to the ISS a prototype human-like robot for long-term testing, a pressurized logistics module, critical spare components, and other equipment and supplies. During the 11-day mission, Drew and a crewmate will perform two spacewalks to update and repair the ISS while Stott coordinates their activities from inside. In addition, Drew and Stott will operate Discovery’s robotic arm to perform tasks on the exterior of the space station.
“This unique moment in Embry-Riddle history is a matter of immense pride to everyone associated with our university,” said Dr. John P. Johnson, Embry-Riddle president. “Nicole and Al are a shining example of the quality of our alumni and of how far, literally, an Embry-Riddle education can take you. I can’t think of better role models for students seeking careers in aerospace engineering and sciences.”
Besides Drew and Stott, three other current astronauts – Daniel Burbank, Ronald Garan Jr., and Terry Virts Jr. – and one former astronaut – Susan Kilrain – are Embry-Riddle alumni. This year, Garan is scheduled as a member of Expeditions 27 and 28 on the ISS, and Burbank is scheduled for Expeditions 29 and 30; they will be transported by Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
STS-133 is the second trip to the ISS for Drew and Stott. Drew was an STS-118 mission specialist in August 2007. Stott was an STS-128 mission specialist in August 2009. She participated in a six-hour spacewalk while living and working on the ISS as a flight engineer for three months. The astronauts have known each other since NASA selected them for the Astronaut Class of 2000.
“We’ve been close friends for nearly 10 years now,” said Drew in a recent interview. “As you might imagine, I’m very excited to be flying with her for that fact alone. What I’ve figured out in our preparations for our trip to the International Space Station is that as a former resident of ISS she has a wealth of knowledge and useful insights about how to work on and around the outpost.”
STS-133 is the 39th and final flight of Discovery, which first launched in August 1984 and has flown more missions than any other space shuttle in the fleet. In its 26-year history, Discovery carried the Hubble Space Telescope into space as well as astronaut John Glenn, the oldest person ever to leave planet Earth. Discovery was also the return-to-flight vehicle after the Challenger and Columbia tragedies.
Despite the pending retirement of the space shuttle fleet and the uncertain future of the U.S. space program, Stott and Drew are optimistic.
“I do hold hope that we as a nation are not willing to give up the leading role we have in human spaceflight and will continue to build and launch the vehicles and the astronauts to destinations both in and outside of low Earth orbit,” Stott said. “The potential for exploring outside our own relatively close orbit is certainly exciting to me.”
Drew added, “I’m excited for our next generation of astronauts and rocket scientists because of the great untapped opportunities that exist for them. We have yet to re-examine some of the very ambitious concepts from the 1950s and 1960s that could not get around the limits of the technology of that time. I really expect this next generation to head back to the future – Mars ships, flying cars, jet packs, and so on.”
What the future of space exploration definitely includes are increasingly sophisticated robotic systems. Robonaut 2, the prototype humanoid robot Discovery is delivering to the ISS, differs from its predecessors in its ability to use the same manual tools as astronauts. Consisting of a head, torso, arms, and hands, Robonaut 2 was developed jointly by NASA and General Motors to serve as an assistant or stand-in for astronauts during spacewalks or tasks too difficult or dangerous for humans. Initially, the prototype will be tested only inside the space station and will remain there as a permanent resident.
Regarding the use of robotics to augment and extend human capability, Drew commented, “Humans and programmed machines have complementary capabilities and limitations. Robonaut 2 has the potential to advance the state of the art for fine dexterous robotic operations on orbit.”
Drew, whose hometown is Washington, D.C., earned a Master of Aerospace Science in 1995 at the Las Vegas, Nev., campus of Embry-Riddle Worldwide. In 2008 Drew visited the Daytona Beach Campus as the featured speaker at the Black History Month Banquet co-sponsored by the Embry-Riddle student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and also spoke at local elementary and middle schools.
Stott, whose hometown is Clearwater, Fla., earned a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus in 1987 and is an instrument-rated private pilot. She is a frequent speaker at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus and a member of the College of Engineering’s Industry Advisory Board. In 2009 she received the Alumni Eagle of Excellence Award. As the guest speaker at the May 2010 commencement ceremony at the Daytona Beach Campus, she received the university’s Distinguished Speaker Award.
“Nicole is one of my favorite former students, and we’ve stayed in close contact over the years,” said Aerospace Engineering professor emeritus Chuck Eastlake. “Current Embry-Riddle students respond enthusiastically to her passion for her career, and they greatly appreciate her guidance.”
Embry-Riddle’s degree programs in Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Physics, the largest in the nation, are especially well-suited for students interested in aerospace careers. The university offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Aerospace Engineering and bachelor’s, master’s, and a newly introduced doctorate in Engineering Physics. The annual college rankings produced by U.S. News & World Report have named Embry-Riddle’s Aerospace Engineering program the best in the nation for 11 straight years.
“I consider the education I received at Embry-Riddle one of the key things that prepared me for my work with NASA and ultimately for the Astronaut Office,” Stott said. “It really is a continued inspiration to go back to the university and see the excitement of the students there and the very positive progress the university has made. I really enjoy the opportunity to share some of the things I’ve been blessed to do with the students and faculty and hope it provides them with encouragement about the challenging and exciting things that are out there for them.”
Graduates from Embry-Riddle can be found throughout NASA and the aerospace industry, as Drew notes: “I get to interact with Embry-Riddle alumni, young and old, every day. They work on issues important to me, and they speak my language.”
Al Drew’s official NASA biography is at www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/drew-ba.html.
Nicole Stott’s official NASA biography is at www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/stott-np.html.
STS-133 mission information is at www.nasa.gov/shuttle.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world's largest, fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace, is a nonprofit, independent institution offering more than 40 baccalaureate, master's and Ph.D. degree programs in its colleges of Arts and Sciences, Aviation, Business and Engineering. Embry-Riddle educates students at residential campuses in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Prescott, Ariz., and through the Worldwide Campus with more than 150 locations in the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The university is a major research center, seeking solutions to real-world problems in partnership with the aerospace industry, other universities and government agencies. For more information, visit http://www.embryriddle.edu, follow us on Twitter (@EmbryRiddle) and facebook.com/EmbryRiddleUniversity, and find expert videos at YouTube.com/EmbryRiddleUniv.