WASHINGTON -- Mark Vande Hei, a retired Army colonel, is one of the newest astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), a large spacecraft where people have lived continuously for nearly 17 years. Early this morning, Vande Hei, who boarded the ISS in September 2017, took part in the deployment of a small satellite from the station using a robotic arm to set it on its course.

According to Vande Hei, his experience in the Army helped him to achieve his goal of becoming an astronaut.

"Staying fit is something I value, and the Army has given me plenty of opportunities to push my limits," he said. "The Army also helped me meet my goal of getting a master's degree and teaching."

Originally from Falls Church, Virginia, Vande Hei joined the Army through the ROTC program and served as a combat engineer. Later, he taught physics as an assistant professor at the United States Military Academy in West Point. In 2003, he became the space-support team leader at the Army's 1st Space Battalion at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, where he also served as the battalion's operations officer. As team leader, he deployed to Iraq for 12 months as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In 2009, Vande Hei was selected by NASA to be part of its 20th astronaut class. By the time he retired from the Army in 2017, he had served for more than 27 years as a Soldier.

"The Army is fantastic about giving you opportunities to grow, early and often," he said.

In addition to Vande Hei, there are currently two active-duty astronauts in the U.S. Army -- Lt. Col. Andrew Morgan and Maj. Anne McClain -- as well as astronaut candidate Maj. Frank Rubio, who will become an astronaut after two years of training.

Army astronauts help the Army define its requirements for the space program, enhance the Army's use of space capabilities, and serve as ambassadors to NASA and the public.

For more information about Army astronauts and the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command / Army Forces Strategic Command, please contact Mr. Cecil A. Longino, Jr. (USASMDC/ARSTRAT Public Affairs) at cecil.a.longino.civ@mail.mil or 256-955-9977.