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Franklin R. Chang-Díaz: 1950—: Astronaut, Physicist

Chosen By Nasa

In May of 1980 Chang-Díaz was selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for its elite astronaut corps—one of only 19 chosen from 3,000 applicants. He became an astronaut in August of 1981 and flew six space shuttle missions between 1986 and 1998. During his astronaut training at NASA, Chang-Díaz worked on flight software checkout at the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory. He also contributed to early design studies for the Space Station. In 1982 he was named to the support crew for the first Spacelab mission, and in 1983 was an orbit capsule communicator for that flight. In addition to his research at NASA, Chang-Díaz was active in astronaut support services.

Chang-Díaz founded the Astronaut Science Colloquium Program in January of 1987. This program worked on building closer relationships between astronauts and scientists. Another organization, the Astronaut Science Support Group, was launched with Chang-Díaz's help in 1988. Its purpose, according to a NASA release, was to improve data return and simplify equipment repairs in space by utilizing the expertise of astronauts who have flown Space Shuttle missions. The group also advised the National Space Transportation System and the Space Station programs on science and technology issues. Chang-Díaz served as director of the group until January of 1989.

On January 12, 1986, Chang-Díaz began his first flight mission, STS 61-C. On this flight, the Space Shuttle Columbia completed 96 orbits of earth and launched the SATCOM KU satellite. Chang-Díaz participated in the deployment of the satellite and conducted experiments in astrophysics; he also operated the materials processing laboratory. The Columbia landed safely on January 18, 1986.

Chang-Díaz's next flight was STS-34 aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. On this mission, which was launched on October 18, 1989, the crew deployed the Galileo spacecraft, which was programmed to explore the planet Jupiter. The crew also operated the Shuttle Solar Backscatter Ultraviolet Instrument to map ozone in the earth's atmosphere, and conducted various other experiments. The mission completed 79 orbits of earth and landed on October 23, 1989. On STS-46, also aboard the Atlantis, Chang-Díaz and other crew members launched the European Retrievable Carrier satellite and tested the first Tethered Satellite System. This mission involved 126 orbits of earth and lasted eight days, from July 31 to August 8, 1992.

In 1994 Chang-Díaz began his fourth mission, STS-60, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. This was the first joint U.S.-Russian Space Shuttle mission to include a Russian cosmonaut as a crew member. It was also the first flight of the Wake Shield Facility and the second flight of the Space Habitation Module-2. On this flight, Chang-Díaz participated in several experiments involving biological materials, earth observation, and life science. The Discovery completed 130 orbits of earth on this mission and landed on February 11, 1994.

Chang-Díaz's next flight was STS-75, which completed 252 orbits of earth in 1996. On this mission, the shuttle crew conducted additional Tethered Satellite System experiments, showing that tethers produce electricity and provided researchers with much new information about the electrodynamics of tethers and plasma physics. Other research, on the U.S. Micro-gravity Payload, provided data helpful in the improvement of the production of medicines, metal alloys, and semiconductors. The mission completed 252 orbits of earth in fifteen days.

On STS-91 in 1998, Chang-Díaz was a mission specialist. This was the ninth and final Shuttle-Mir docking mission, concluding the first phase of the joint US-Russian Space Shuttle program. Chang-Díaz and other Discovery crew members conducted resupply of the Russian space station Mir, and also ran experiments on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), which was the first research of its kind on antimatter in space.

Chang-Díaz's most recent flight, STS-111, was launched on June 5, 2002 and was the seventh space mission for the astronaut—tying a record set by Jerry Ross in April of 2002. "I'm just getting started," Chang-Díaz commented in an article on Space.com. "I'm hoping that these kinds of records will be easily broken … many times over." During the 12-day mission, Chang-Díaz participated in three space walks.

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