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Susan Jane Helms
Helms sj4.jpg
Lt. Gen. Susan J. Helms, USAF
Born February 26, 1958(1958-02-26) (age 62), Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S.
Rank Lieutenant General, USAF

Susan Jane Helms (born February 26, 1958) is a retired lieutenant general in the United States Air Force and a former NASA astronaut. She was the commander, 14th Air Force (Air Forces Strategic); and commander, Joint Functional Component Command for Space at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.[1] Helms was a crew member on five Space Shuttle missions and was a resident of the International Space Station (ISS) for over five months in 2001. While participating in ISS Expedition 2, she and Jim Voss conducted an 8 hour and 56 minute spacewalk, the longest to date.[2] Helms officially retired from the United States Air Force in 2014.

Personal lifeEdit

Helms was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, but considers Portland, Oregon, to be her hometown. She enjoys piano and other musical activities, jogging, traveling, reading, computers, and cooking. Her parents, Lieutenant Colonel (Retired, USAF) Pat and Dori Helms, reside in Denver, Colorado. She has three sisters.


  • 1976: Graduated from Parkrose Senior High School, Portland, Oregon
  • 1980: Received a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the United States Air Force Academy
  • 1985: Received a master of science degree in aeronautics/astronautics from Stanford University


Military careerEdit

Helms graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1980. She received her commission and was assigned to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, as an F-16 weapons separation engineer with the Air Force Armament Laboratory. In 1982, she became the lead engineer for F-15 weapons separation. In 1984, she was selected to attend graduate school. She received her degree from Stanford University in 1985 and was assigned as an assistant professor of aeronautics at the U.S. Air Force Academy. In 1987, she attended the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California. After completing one year of training as a flight test engineer, Helms was assigned as a USAF Exchange Officer to the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment, at Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake in Alberta, Canada, where she worked as a flight test engineer and project officer on the CF-18 aircraft. She was managing the development of a CF-18 flight control system simulation for the Canadian Forces when selected for the astronaut program.

Helms sj

Helms as a brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force

After a 12-year NASA career that included 211 days in space, Helms returned to the U.S. Air Force in July 2002 to take a position at HQ USAF Space Command. After a stint as the division chief of the Space Superiority Division of the Requirements Directorate of Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado, she served as vice commander of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base near Cape Canaveral, Florida. She then served as deputy director of operations (Technical Training) for Air Education and Training Command at Randolph Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas. Helms served on the Return To Flight task group after the Columbia accident.[3] She was promoted to brigadier general in June 2006 and became commander of the 45th Space Wing on the same day of her promotion.[1]
Susan Jane Helms
Born February 26, 1958(1958-02-26) (age 62)
Place of birth Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S.
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Air Force
Years of service 1980 - 2014
Rank US-O9 insignia Lieutenant General
Unit United States Strategic Command
Awards NASA Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit (3)
Defense Superior Service Medal
Defense Meritorious Service Medal (2)
NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal

Helms was promoted to major general in August 2009.[1] She served as the Director of Plans and Policy, U.S. Strategic Command, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. She was directly responsible to the U.S. Strategic Command commander for the development and implementation of national security policy and guidance; military strategy and guidance; space and weapons employment concepts and policy; and joint doctrine as they apply to the command and the execution of its missions. She was also responsible for the development of the nation's strategic war plan, strategic support plans for theater combatant commanders and contingency planning for the global strike mission.

In January 2011, Helms was promoted to lieutenant general and assumed duties as commander, 14th Air Force (Air Forces Strategic), Air Force Space Command and Commander, Joint Functional Component Command for Space, US Strategic Command[1][4][5][6]

As a flight test engineer, Helms has flown in 30 different types of U.S. and Canadian military aircraft.[citation needed]

In 2013, Helms was nominated by President Barack Obama to become vice commander of the Air Force Space Command. Senator Claire McCaskill placed a permanent hold on the nomination because Helms had dismissed a charge of a sexual assault and punished Captain Herrera on a lesser charge leading to his dismissal from the USAF, in her role as the General Court-Martial Convening Authority, who is required to review all findings.[7][8] As Helms's lawyer explained, Helms felt the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.[9][10] Obama eventually withdrew Helms's nomination.[11]

Spaceflight experienceEdit


NASA portrait of Helms

Selected by NASA in January 1990, Helms became an astronaut in July 1991. She flew on STS-54 (1993), STS-64 (1994), STS-78 (1996), STS-101 (2000) and served aboard the International Space Station as a member of the ISS Expedition 2 crew (2001). A veteran of five space flights, Helms logged 5,064 hours in space, including an EVA of 8 hours and 56 minutes (world record).[12][13][14]

STS-54 Endeavour, January 13–19, 1993. The primary objective of this mission was the deployment of a $200-million NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-F). A diffuse X-ray spectrometer (DXS) carried in the payload bay, collected over 80,000 seconds of quality X-ray data that will enable investigators to answer questions about the origin of the Milky Way galaxy. The crew demonstrated the physics principles of everyday toys to an interactive audience of elementary school students across the United States. A highly successful extra-vehicular activity (EVA) resulted in many lessons learned that will benefit International Space Station assembly. Mission duration was 5 days, 23 hours, 38 minutes, 17 seconds.


Helms views the topography of a point on Earth from the nadir window of the ISS.

STS-64 Discovery, September 9–20, 1994. On this flight, Helms served as the flight engineer for orbiter operations and the primary RMS operator aboard Space Shuttle. The major objective of this flight was to validate the design and operating characteristics of Lidar in Space Technology Experiment (LITE) by gathering data about the Earth's troposphere and stratosphere. Additional objectives included the deploy and retrieval of SPARTAN-201, a free-flying satellite that investigated the physics of the solar corona, and the testing of a new EVA maneuvering device. The Shuttle Plume Impingement Flight Experiment (SPIFEX) was used to collect extensive data on the effects of jet thruster impingement, in preparation for proximity tasks such as space station docking. Mission duration was 10 days, 22 hours, 51 minutes.

STS-78 Columbia, June 20 to July 7, 1996, Helms was the payload commander and flight engineer aboard Columbia, on the longest Space Shuttle mission to date (later that year the STS-80 mission broke its record by nineteen hours). The mission included studies sponsored by ten nations and five space agencies, and was the first mission to combine both a full microgravity studies agenda and a comprehensive life science investigation. The Life and Microgravity Spacelab mission served as a model for future studies on board the International Space Station. Mission duration was 16 days, 21 hours, 48 minutes.

STS-101 Atlantis, May 19–29, 2000, was a mission dedicated to the delivery and repair of critical hardware for the International Space Station. Helms prime responsibilities during this mission were to perform critical repairs to extend the life of the Functional Cargo Block (FGB). In addition, she had prime responsibility of the onboard computer network and served as the mission specialist for rendezvous with the ISS. Mission duration was 9 days, 20 hours and 9 minutes.

Expedition 2 March 8 to August 22, 2001 was a mission to the International Space Station and Helms was as a member of the second crew to inhabit the International Space Station Alpha. The Expedition 2 crew (two American astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut) launched on March 8, 2001 on board STS-102 Discovery and successfully docked with the station on March 9, 2001. The Expedition 2 crew installed and conducted tests on the Canadian-made Space Station Robotic arm (SSRMS), conducted internal and external maintenance tasks (Russian and American), in addition to medical and science experiments. During her stay on board, Helms installed the airlock (brought up on the STS-104 mission) using the SSRM. She and her crewmates also performed a 'fly around' of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and welcomed the visiting Soyuz crew that included the first space tourist, Dennis Tito. On March 11 she performed a world-record 8 hour and 56 minute space walk to install hardware to the external body of the laboratory module. Helms spent a total of 163 days aboard the space station. She returned to earth with the STS-105 crew aboard Discovery on August 22, 2001.

Awards and decorationsEdit

Master space badge Command Space Operations Badge
United States Air Force Navigator Observer Badge Air Force Senior Observer Badge with Astronaut Device
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Bronze oakleaf-3d
US Defense Superior Service Medal ribbon.svg
Defense Superior Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Width-44 crimson ribbon with a pair of width-2 white stripes on the edges
Legion of Merit with three oak leaf clusters
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Defense Meritorious Service ribbon.svg
Defense Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Width-44 crimson ribbon with two width-8 white stripes at distance 4 from the edges.
Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster
Air Force Commendation ribbon.svg Air Force Commendation Medal
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Outstanding Unit ribbon.svg
Outstanding Unit Award with three oak leaf clusters
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Organizational Excellence ribbon.svg
Organizational Excellence Award with three oak leaf clusters
Bronze star
Width=44 scarlet ribbon with a central width-4 golden yellow stripe, flanked by pairs of width-1 scarlet, white, Old Glory blue, and white stripes
National Defense Service Medal with service star
Global War on Terrorism Service ribbon.svg Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Armed Forces Service Medal ribbon.svg Armed Forces Service Medal
Air Force Overseas Long Tour Service Ribbon.svg Air Force Overseas Long Tour Service Ribbon
Silver oakleaf-3d
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Bronze oakleaf-3d
Air Force Longevity Service ribbon.svg
Air Force Longevity Service Award with silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters
USAF Marksmanship ribbon.svg Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon
Air Force Training Ribbon.svg Air Force Training Ribbon
NasaDisRib NASA Distinguished Service Medal
NASA Outstanding Leadership Ribbon.png NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal

Dates of rankEdit

Insignia Rank Date
US-O9 insigniaLieutenant General 21 January 2011
US-O8 insigniaMajor General2 August 2009
US-O7 insigniaBrigadier General23 June 2006
US-O6 insigniaColonel1 February 2000
US-O5 insigniaLieutenant Colonel1 March 1994
US-O4 insigniaMajor1 October 1991
US-O3 insigniaCaptain28 May 1984
US-O2 insigniaFirst Lieutenant28 May 1982
US-O1 insigniaSecond Lieutenant28 May 1980


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "USAF Biography of Helms". Archived from the original on 2012-12-12. 
  2. "STS-102 Mission Control Center Status Report # 7". NASA. 
  3. "Return To Flight Task Group: Members". Return To Flight Task Group. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  4. Air Force Susan Helms in line for third star,, 2010/09.
  7. Whitlock, Craig (7 June 2013). "Senator continues to block promotion of Air Force general". Washington Post. Washington Post. Retrieved June 7, 2013. 
  8. Taranto, James. "Gen. Helms and the Senator's 'Hold'". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  9. Taranto, James. "Meet Col. Williams". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  10. Helms, Susan (24 February 2012). "Disapproval of Findings in U.S. vs. Herrera". U.S. Air Force. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  12. Official NASA biography of Susan Helms
  13. Spacefacts biography of Susan J. Helms
  14. DoD News General Officer Assignments

External linksEdit

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