CORVALLIS, Ore. – An electrical engineering graduate from Oregon State University who grew up in Alaska learning to fly bush planes will make his first journey into space as pilot of the space shuttle Discovery, scheduled for liftoff on Dec. 7.
William Oefelein, who graduated from OSU in 1988 before becoming a pilot in the U.S. Navy, didn’t dream of being an astronaut growing up, but he loved to explore.
“As a kid, I always liked math and science. I never really wanted to become an astronaut, I just wanted to fly airplanes and explore,” he said.
Oefelein was selected by NASA in June, 1998, and was originally scheduled to pilot the space shuttle in 2003. But the Columbia disaster during reentry in February of that year put the program on hold and left fellow OSU engineering alumnus Donald Pettit on the International Space Station for close to six months, before he returned safely to Earth aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
On his mission, Oefelein and the seven-member crew will reconfigure the electrical system and add a truss segment to accommodate more solar arrays, which provide electrical power.
“This will allow us to gain more power in order to do more science,” Oefelein said. “The mission will be full of challenges, but a lot of fun,” Ron Adams, dean of the College of Engineering at OSU, said having two alumni as space shuttle astronauts is an honor for the university.
“I’m proud to be associated with an engineering program that counts among their ranks such stellar individuals as Bill Oefelein and Don Pettit,” Adams said. “Their work inspires young people to pursue careers in engineering, which helps keep America on the cutting edge of innovation.”
Oefelein was a naval aviator, served on the U.S.S. Nimitz and attended the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, TOPGUN. After graduation from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1995, he was assigned to Strike Aircraft Test Squadron as an F/A-18 project officer and test pilot, subsequently becoming an instructor at the school, and completed a master’s degree in aviation systems at the University of Tennessee Space Institute.