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Big Orange in Orbit

Over the past 35 years, 10 UT graduates have advanced the American space program as NASA astronauts.

August 14, 2017 | Updated: April 10, 2019

The graduates include Randy Bresnik who commanded the International Space Station (ISS) during a 2017 mission.

In addition to extending UT’s time in space by another three months, Bresnik’s mission adds to a collection of research aimed to better humankind.

His team performed research related to drugs that only target cancer cells. They also used microgravity for a new lung tissue study to advance the understanding of how stem cells work and the pathology of Parkinson’s disease with the goal of helping develop new patient therapies—a project funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Another UT alumnus, Scott Kelly, advanced preparations for deep space exploration, particularly America’s plans to visit Mars, by participating in NASA’s One-Year Mission.

Kelly lived aboard the ISS from March 2015 to February 2016, taking part in research about how the human body adjusts to weightlessness, isolation, radiation, and the stress of long-duration spaceflight.

Researchers continue to compare the differences between Kelly’s physiology and that of his twin brother, Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut who remained earthbound during the mission. The Twins Study has revealed that Scott Kelly’s time in space even impacted him at the genetic level.

Studying those remarkable findings, along with changes in Kelly’s musculature and bone density, will help NASA prepare countermeasures for missions to Mars and beyond. The One-Year Mission was Kelly’s fourth and his last before retiring.

Another UT alumnus, Barry Wilmore, has also helped NASA prepare for visits to Mars. While Wilmore was ISS commander in 2014, his team used the first design emailed from Earth to make a tool in space. They made a ratchet wrench with a 3-D printer.

NASA was testing the ability to supply missing equipment on demand during a space exploration mission, along with the possible benefits of microgravity when creating objects in space.

Other Volunteer Astronauts

Hank Hartsfield
1982 First of three flights
UT’s first astronaut, Hartsfield piloted Columbia’s last test flight, Discovery’s first flight, and a Challenger flight that included 75 experiments related to biology and materials science.

Rhea Seddon
1985 First of three flights
A medical doctor and the fifth American woman in space, Seddon researched how weightlessness and cosmic radiation impact animal cardiovascular and skeletal systems.

Chris Hadfield
1995 First of three flights
Hadfield was the sole Canadian to spend time aboard the space station Mir, as well as the first Canadian to spacewalk and use the shuttle’s robotic arm—which was designed and built by Canadians.

Joe Edwards Jr.
1998 flight
Edwards piloted Endeavour on a mission to Mir for research related to space travel and growing plants in space.

Dominic Gorie
1998 First of four flights
Gorie’s first flight was the final Mir mission, which helped pave the way for the ISS. His second flight included the first highly-detailed mapping of Earth.

Jeffrey Ashby
1999 First of three flights
Ashby’s missions include advances in X-ray and ultraviolet imagery of the atmosphere and observations on tissue loss in space.

William Oefelein
2006 Sole flight
Oefelein’s mission on Discovery included the deployment of a new solar array for the ISS.

10 astronauts, 1,1012 days, 16,192 orbits, 424 million miles graphic

UT 225th anniversaryThis story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.

Learn more about UT’s 225th anniversary

Photos by NASA

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