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Shannon Walker is a NASA astronaut who served as a mission specialist on the Crew-1 SpaceX Crew Dragon mission in 2020 — the first operational, commercial crew to travel to the International Space Station (ISS). She is currently serving as flight engineer for NASA’s Expedition 64, her second long-duration stint on the ISS. In 2010, she was a flight engineer for Expedition 24/25, which lasted about 6 months.
Walker was born on June 4, 1965 in Houston, Texas, making her the first astronaut to be born in the same city as NASA headquarters. After high school she received a Bachelor of Arts in physics from Rice University in Houston in 1987. Walker then joined the Rockwell Space Operations Company at the Johnson Space Center as a robotics flight controller for the space shuttle program. She also worked in the mission control center as a flight controller, assisting with numerous space shuttle missions.
After three years at the Johnson Space Center, Walker took a break to attend graduate school. She earned a Master of Science degree and PhD, both in space physics, from Rice University in 1992 and 1993, respectively. Her research investigated how solar winds interact with Venus’ atmosphere.
In 1995, Walker returned to space operations and joined NASA’s ISS Program, where she assisted international partners in the design and construction of robotics hardware. In 1998, she joined the Mission Evaluation Room, which is the central facility where engineers provide support for space shuttle missions. The following year, she moved to Russia to work for the Russian Space Agency, focusing on aviation integration for the ISS. After a year in Russia, she returned to NASA as technical lead for the Mission Evaluation Room and deputy manager, and eventually acting manager of the On-Orbit Engineering Office, which is responsible for the mission evaluation room as well as resolving problems that arise on-orbit.
NASA’s Crew-1 astronauts pose for a photo as they prepare to head to Pad 39A for their SpaceX Crew Dragon launch on Nov. 15, 2020. They are (from left): NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins and Soichi Noguchi with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. (Image credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)From the control room into the space shuttle
After she applied for and was rejected from NASA’s astronaut program four times, NASA finally selected Walker for the program after her fifth attempt in 2004, the Houston Chronicle reported. She completed astronaut training in 2006 and was assigned to be the main crew support astronaut for the Expedition 14 crew, who lived and worked on the ISS for 215 days from September 2006 to April 2007. Walker was the point person connecting the Earth-orbiting crew to ground control.
Walker then served as a backup crew member for Expedition 19 and 21/22, before becoming a primary crew member on Expedition 24/25 in 2010. For Expedition 24/25, she was the flight engineer for the Russian Soyuz spacecraft TMA-19 and continued in that role during the 163-day mission aboard the ISS.
The view of Earth from space as seen by the Crew-1 astronauts on the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience. (Image credit: NASA TV)Flying with Crew-1 on the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience
There was a 10 year lapse between Walker’s 2010 space adventure and her 2020 mission. During this time, she was a back-up astronaut for the Expedition 53/54 in 2017, and was assigned to serve on Expedition 59/60 in 2019, before being pulled from the mission ahead of time. Instead, she continued with her work in the astronaut office in the Johnson Space Center.
In March 2020 Walker was announced as part of SpaceX Dragon’s first operational, crewed mission to the ISS called Crew-1. She was joined by NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
Just before launching on Nov. 15, 2020, NASA announced that the Crew-1 astronauts named their spacecraft “Resilience,” in recognition of the challenges that people faced and were forced to overcome in 2020 due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Walker is currently aboard the space station with her fellow Crew-1 members as part of Expedition 64. Ahead of the Crew-1 launch, Walker said the mission is part of a new era in space travel.
“I feel like the science fiction movies are starting to come to life,” she told the press office at her alma mater, Rice University. “Getting the commercial crew companies on board … is just going to change everything.”
Here is a video of Shannon Walker talking about the Crew-1 mission.SpaceX Crew-1 launched its mission to the International Space Station in October 2020.Keep up to date with developments on the ISS by following NASA’s astronaut blog.