Tuesday, December 15, 2015

From the Halls of West Point to the International Space Station

The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York is well known for producing some of the most highly skilled military graduates in the world. However, it is also renowned for its spacefaring alumni which includes NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, who today launched aboard a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a six month long mission to the International Space Station.

Kopra graduated from West Point in 1985
credit: NASA

Kopra blasted off at 11:03 pm. GMT(6:03 p.m. EST) in the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft from Pad 1 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome- the same launch pad used by Yuri Gagarin when he became the first man in space in April 1961. 

He is joined by Soyuz commander and veteran Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko making his sixth flight into space and his fourth flight to the ISS, and rookie European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake of Great Britain- the first Brit to visit the station.

The trio are set to live and work aboard the station for the best part of six months as part of Expedition 46/47, with Kopra serving as commander of the station for Expedition 47.

No stranger to the space station, Kopra was selected by NASA in July 2000 and later served as a flight engineer aboard the orbiting laboratory as part of Expedition 20 in 2009. He launched with the STS-127 crew aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour and returned to Earth with the STS-128 crew aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. 

Before joining the space agency he received his commission as a second lieutenant from the United States Military Academy in May 1985 and was designated as an Army aviator in August 1986. 

I recently asked Tim how he felt his training at the USMA helped him in his career as an astronaut,.

"West Point is a very challenging environment for young people..
I think the thing you learn that's most valuable from that experience is about getting your job done.. being disciplined and the fact that it's a team effort.."

"The common expression at West Point is "co-operate and graduate" and I think that's stuck with me."

USMA logo
credit: Army Times
Kopra finished by noting how important perseverance is in graduating from the military academy- "You have to stick with it in order to make it through."

Tim is part of a privileged group of West Point graduates to have flown in space. Notable others include Ed White, Buzz Aldrin and Al Worden, as well as former space station commanders Doug Wheelock and Jeffrey Williams(Williams will in fact fly aboard the ISS with Kopra as part of Expedition 47/48).

Kopra, Malenchenko and Peake are scheduled to return to Earth on June 5 2016.

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