Susan J. Helms


Born February 26, 1958, in Charlotte, North Carolina, but considers Portland, Oregon, to be her hometown. She enjoys piano and other musical activities, jogging, traveling, reading, computers, and cooking. Her parents, Lt. Col. (Ret., USAF) Pat and Dori Helms, reside in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


Graduated from Parkrose Senior High School, Portland, Oregon, in 1976; received a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1980, and a master of science degree in aeronautics/astronautics from Stanford University in 1985.


Women Military Aviators; U.S. Air Force Academy Association of Graduates; Stanford Alumni Association; Association of Space Explorers, Sea/Space Symposium, Chi Omega Alumni.


Distinguished Superior Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, Defense Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, Air Force Commendation Medal, NASA Distinguished Service Medal, NASA Space Flight Medals, and the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal. Named a Distinguished Graduate of the USAF Test Pilot School, and recipient of the R.L. Jones Award for Outstanding Flight Test Engineer, Class 88A. In 1990, she received the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment Commanding Officer’s Commendation, a special award unique to the Canadian Forces. Named the Air Force Armament Laboratory Junior Engineer of the Year in 1983.


Helms graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1980. She received her commission and was assigned to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, as an F-16 weapons separation engineer with the Air Force Armament Laboratory. In 1982, she became the lead engineer for F-15 weapons separation. In 1984, she was selected to attend graduate school. She received her degree from Stanford University in 1985 and was assigned as an assistant professor of aeronautics at the U.S. Air Force Academy. In 1987, she attended the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California. After completing one year of training as a flight test engineer, Helms was assigned as a USAF Exchange Officer to the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment, Canadian Forces Base, Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada, where she worked as a flight test engineer and project officer on the CF-18 aircraft. She was managing the development of a CF-18 Flight Control System Simulation for the Canadian Forces when selected for the astronaut program.

As a flight test engineer, Helms has flown in 30 different types of U.S. and Canadian military aircraft.


Selected by NASA in January 1990, Helms became an astronaut in July 1991. She flew on STS-54 (1993), STS-64 (1994), STS-78 (1996), STS-101 (2000) and served aboard the International Space Station as a member of the Expedition-2 crew (2001). A veteran of five space flights, Helms has logged 5,064 hours in space, including an EVA of 8 hours and 56 minutes (world record).

After a 12-year NASA career that included 211 days in space, Helms returned to the U.S. Air Force in July 2002 to take a position at HQ USAF Space Command. Currently Brigadier General Helms is Commander, 45th Space Wing, and Director, Eastern Range, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. As the 45th Space Wing Commander, she is responsible for the processing and launch of U.S. government and commercial satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. She is the final approval authority for all launches on the Eastern Range, a 15-million-square-mile area that includes a network of radar, telemetry tracking, and telecommunication hardware operating at sites up the East Coast and in the Atlantic Ocean, including detachments at Antigua Air Station and Ascension Island. The range supports an average of 20 launches per year aboard Delta and Atlas Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles, assuring access to space for America. General Helms also manages wing launch and range infrastructure supporting space launch and missile test operations.


STS-54 Endeavour, January 13-19, 1993. The primary objective of this mission was the deploy of a $200-million NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-F). A Diffuse X-Ray Spectrometer (DXS) carried in the payload bay, collected over 80,000 seconds of quality X-ray data that will enable investigators to answer questions about the origin of the Milky Way galaxy. The crew demonstrated the physics principles of everyday toys to an interactive audience of elementary school students across the United States. A highly successful Extravehicular Activity (EVA) resulted in many lessons learned that will benefit Space Station Freedom assembly. Mission duration was 5 days, 23 hours, 38 minutes, 17 seconds.

STS-64 Discovery, September 9-20, 1994. On this flight, Helms served as the flight engineer for orbiter operations and the primary RMS operator aboard Space Shuttle. The major objective of this flight was to validate the design and operating characteristics of Lidar in Space Technology Experiment (LITE) by gathering data about the Earth’s troposphere and stratosphere. Additional objectives included the deploy and retrieval of SPARTAN-201, a free-flying satellite that investigated the physics of the solar corona, and the testing of a new EVA maneuvering device. The Shuttle Plume Impingement Flight Experiment (SPIFEX) was used to collect extensive data on the effects of jet thruster impingement, in preparation for proximity tasks such as space station docking. Mission duration was 10 days, 22 hours, 51 minutes.

STS-78 Columbia, June 20 to July 7, 1996, Helms was the payload commander and flight engineer aboard Columbia, on the longest Space Shuttle mission to date. The mission included studies sponsored by ten nations and five space agencies, and was the first mission to combine both a full microgravity studies agenda and a comprehensive life science investigation. The Life and Microgravity Spacelab mission served as a model for future studies on board the International Space Station. Mission duration was 16 days, 21 hours, 48 minutes.

STS-101 Atlantis, May 19-29, 2000, was a mission dedicated to the delivery and repair of critical hardware for the International Space Station. Helms prime responsibilities during this mission were to perform critical repairs to extend the life of the Functional Cargo Block (FGB). In addition, she had prime responsibility of the onboard computer network and served as the mission specialist for rendezvous with the ISS. Mission duration was 9 days, 20 hours and 9 minutes.

Helms lived and worked onboard the International Space Station as a member of the second crew to inhabit the International Space Station Alpha. The Expedition-2 crew (two American astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut) launched on March 8, 2001 onboard STS-102 Discovery and successfully docked with the station on March 9, 2001. The Expedition-2 crew installed and conducted tests on the Canadian made Space Station Robotic arm (SSRMS), conducted internal and external maintenance tasks (Russian and American), in addition to medical and science experiments. During her stay onboard the Space Station, Helms installed the Airlock (brought up on the STS-104 mission) using the SSRM. She and her crewmates also performed a ‘fly around’ of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and welcomed the visiting Soyuz crew that included the 1 st Space Tourist. On March 11 she performed a world record 8 hour and 56 minute space walk to install hardware to the external body of the laboratory module. Helms spent a total of 163 days aboard the Space Station. She returned to earth with the STS-105 crew aboard Discovery on August 22, 2001.




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