From Queen’s to space, he’s boldly gone
When the NASA space shuttle Endeavour finally blasts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after a series of frustrating delays, Andrew (“Drew”) Feustel, PhD’95, is scheduled to be among the six-man crew. The 14-day mission, the second trip into space for the 45-year-old native of Lake Orion, Michigan, was to be historic in a couple of intriguing ways.
For one, it’s the final flight of Endeavour and the penultimate flight in the U.S. shuttle program. These iconic vehicles have revolutionized space travel, boldly carrying hundreds of high-flying travelers to places no human had ever gone before. Over the 30 years of shuttle launches, such flights seem to have become almost routine. Yet the reality is that they still are anything but. As Drew notes, he has been in training continually during his 11-year NASA career.
“An astronaut is always learning new skills and honing existing ones,” says Drew, who specialized in seismology when he earned his doctorate in Geological Sciences. He spent three years in the Engineering Seismology Group at Queen’s installing and operating micro-seismic monitoring equipment in mines. His wife Indira, who hails from Cornwall, ON, worked at both Hotel Dieu Hospital and Kingston General Hospital during their Kingston days, and both their sons were born in KGH. Drew moved on in 1997 to a job with Exxon Mobil Exploration in Houston, Texas, and then signed on with NASA in 2000. His career since then can only be described as heavenly.
Drew’s first mission was as a space-walking member of the crew of the shuttle Atlantis on a May 2009 mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. “I felt an incredible level of serenity as I looked down at the earth,” he says. “I expected I’d be nervous, but that wasn’t the case at all. It was dream-like in many ways, and I was filled with a profound sense of awe.”
Part of the Endeavour's mission for this flight was to deliver crew was to deliver to the International Space Station (ISS) a pallet of spare parts and a $2 billion piece of high-tech scientific equipment called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. Says Drew, “It’s complicated to explain, but basically this is a device that will help scientists search for matter and anti-matter in space.” Drew was also tagged as the lead spacewalker on this mission. * He and colleagues Greg Chamitoff and Mike Fincke would rotate through four two-man walks outside the ISS, doing a number of repairs, collecting and replacing scientific experiments, and other duties.These spacewalks -- or EVAs (extra-vehicular activities) -- last about 6 to 7 hours each.
Drew was to spend more than a week aboard the ISS conducting scientific experiments. And that brings us to the second historic aspect of his mission, which you’ve no doubt been wondering about.
When he was in space Drew planned to wear a spiffy new white t-shirt with a Queen’s crest emblazoned across the chest, a gift from his alma mater. “I’ll be the only person aboard the ISS ever to wear one of those,” he says with a laugh.
Truth be told, this will be the second time Drew has carried Queen’s paraphernalia into space. He packed a Tricolour banner (specially designed by Review art director Larry Harris) on his 2009 shuttle mission. If all goes well, Drew will personally return both the banner and his t-shirt to campus for display sometime later this year or early in 2012. “I really wanted to visit Queen’s in 2010, but I was so busy training for the Endeavour mission that I just couldn’t make it,” he says.
Drew anticipates that his life will be much less hectic once his involvement with the shuttle program ends. Or maybe not. If he’s asked to do so, he says he will consider signing on for a longer space mission, specifically the much-talked about one to Mars.
Drew is quick to note that any decision about that depends on a lot of factors, not the least of which is the reaction of his wife Indira and their two teenage sons. “Me going on a mission to Mars...” his voice trails off. “Now, that’s something we’d have to talk about as a family.”
To visit the NASA web site, please go to www.NASA.gov/
*Note: Our print article, written before the Endeavour launch, stated that Drew Feustel was not scheduled for any space walks during this mission.