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Air Force Academy Spirit

Academy graduate to pilot STS-130 shuttle mission

Col. Terry Virts Jr., a 1989 graduate of the Air Force Academy, will pilot the Space Shuttle Endeavour during the STS-130 mission scheduled for Sunday. Photo Courtesy of NASA

Col. Terry Virts Jr., a 1989 graduate of the Air Force Academy, will pilot the Space Shuttle Endeavour during the STS-130 mission scheduled for Sunday. Photo Courtesy of NASA

By Capt. Corinna Jones

Academy Public Affairs deputy director

 

A 1989 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy will pilot the STS-130 mission to the International Space Station aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor, currently scheduled to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Sunday.

Col. Terry Virts Jr., an astronaut, fighter pilot and test pilot with more than 3,800 flying hours in more than 40 different aircraft, said the Academy played a significant role in preparing him for his Air Force career.

“The Academy’s academic experience gave me a great background in engineering and taught me how to approach and understand real world technical problems,” he said. “The diverse classes we take – chemistry, physics, aero, astro – I have used at least a little bit of all of these in my career.”

“More importantly, the Academy gave me training and experience in leadership, ethics and integrity – something many schools do not and something that is absolutely essential for any career as an officer and post-Air Force careers,” he said.

The colonel said athletics also played a key role.

“Staying in shape is a key part of any healthy life. The Academy got me used to staying active in lots of different activities – running, swimming, sports, skiing,” he said. “There’s no better place to prepare you as a ‘whole person’ than the Air Force Academy. It’s tough and not always fun while you’re there, but it’s worth it.”

The Columbia, Md., native had one more pitch for cadets: “Beat Navy. Beat Army. And beating BYU would be nice too.”

During the STS-130 mission, Endeavour will deliver a third connecting module – the Tranquility node – to the station and a seven-windowed cupola to be used as a control room for robotics. The mission will feature three extra-vehicular activities, or spacewalks.

STS-130 is the 32nd shuttle mission to the station and Colonel Virts’ first trip to space. Mission commander George Zamka will lead the 130 mission. Mission specialists are Nicholas Patrick, Robert Behnken, Stephen Robinson and Kathryn Hire.

Colonel Virts graduated from the Academy with academic distinction and a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics. He also attended the French air force academy, L’École de l’Air, in 1988 on an exchange program.

NASA selected Colonel Virts to become a pilot in July 2000. His technical assignments include lead astronaut for the T-38 supersonic trainer jet, a Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory test crewmember, Expedition 9 crew support astronaut and lead astronaut for appearances. He has worked as a capsule communicator, or CAPCOM, through 11 space station expeditions and 12 space shuttle missions, communicating directly with the station crew using the call sign “Houston.” Most recently, he served as the lead ascent and entry CAPCOM.

Colonel Virts was selected for U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School in 1997 and graduated a year later. Following his graduation, he served as an experimental test pilot at the F-16 Combined Task Force at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., from 1999 until July 2000.

His other assignments include flying F-16s with the 307th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Homestead Air Force Base, Fla., the 36th Fighter Squadron at Osan Air Base, South Korea, and the 22nd FS at Spangdahlem AB, Germany. While at Spangdahlem from 1995-1998, he flew 45 combat missions to suppress enemy air defenses during Operation Allied Force.

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