Army astronaut retires after 27 years of service

By Jason B. Cutshaw, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Public AffairsOctober 11, 2016

Army astronaut retires after 27 years of service
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama -- Some Soldiers retire and decide to circle the world on a cruise ship. One Soldier decided he would retire and circle it on the International Space Station.

Army Astronaut Col. Mark T. Vande Hei, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command NASA Detachment, officially retired from the Army Aug. 31 after serving more than 27 years as an Army engineer and astronaut.

Even though he officially entered the Army retirement rolls Sept. 1, his official retirement ceremony was scheduled to take place Oct. 8 in Houston.

"The highlight of being a Soldier was the sense of purpose that comes with being willing to put yourself in harm's way to protect others as well as participating in history and witnessing it firsthand," Vande Hei said. "Nothing changes for me as a retired military officer because I am still an active astronaut with NASA. I get to continue training for a space flight with the expectation that I'll launch for a roughly six-month tour on the space station starting in August."

For those Soldiers who are looking at challenges personally and professionally, like becoming an astronaut, he gave some words of advice.

"When you get the opportunity to do something hard, even if it means that you'll risk failure, go for it," Vande Hei said. "If you fail, figure out what you should change and try again. The Army is fantastic about giving you opportunities to grow, early and often, so take them. If you don't know what you want to be when you grow up, do as much as possible to have a resume that convinces people that you can do anything. You never know what doors that might open for you.

"Use your free time to do some adventurous stuff and constantly strive to pick up new skills," he added. "Always do your best, but be more invested in helping those around you to be their best than making yourself stand out as better."

Vande Hei was commissioned through ROTC following graduation from Saint John's University in 1989 and also received a Master of Science in applied physics from Stanford University in California. He is a graduate of the Army Engineer Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, Battalion Maintenance Officers' Course, Command and General Staff College, Space Operations Officer Qualification Course, Airborne Course, Air Assault Course, Ranger School and German Winter Operations Course.

He has served in Colorado, New York, Italy, Iraq and other locations.

"I will miss the engagement with people as well as the youthful energy and camaraderie of Soldiers in general," Vande Hei said. "The first time I noticed how much I enjoyed that aspect of being in the Army was after going to graduate school for a couple of years and teaching at West Point for another couple. I spent some time during a summer helping West Point cadets with a live-fire exercise supported by combat engineers from the 10th Mountain Division. Working with those Soldiers after the time in academia reminded me how much I loved working with Soldiers in the field."

Vande Hei was selected in June 2009 as a member of the 20th NASA astronaut class. He completed astronaut candidate training in June 2011, and served as a Capsule Communicator, or CAPCOM, in the Johnson Space Center Mission Control Center at Houston. He has also served as the Astronaut Office's director of operations in Russia.

He spoke about some of the changes lately in the International Space Station program. He said the Russians have opted to limit themselves to no more than one Russian in each of their launching spacecraft. For those capsules that originally had two Russians, the Americans have to get a lot of additional training to be able to fill in the expertise gap created by the second Russian being dropped from the crew.

"My crew is the first affected by that change so our launch has been postponed by six months in order to buy me the additional training time needed," Vande Hei said. "Other crews that already have Americans who have been working on that additional training are launching earlier to fill the gap."

He will launch as a flight engineer for Soyuz 52 then serve as a flight engineer on International Space Station Expeditions 53 and 54.

"In the very near future, my Soyuz crew, still including the two Russians, will be in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to serve as the backup crew for retired Army Astronaut Col. Shane Kimbrough's launch currently scheduled to take place on Oct. 19," Vande Hei said. "Once on the Soyuz, my mission will be to assist the spacecraft commander to get us safely to and from the space station. While we are on the space station, we are there to further our nation's science endeavors and it will be all about the science. The space station is an international lab with amazing research happening every day."

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