Jet Propulsion Laboratory researcher Dr. Andrew S. W. Thomas has been selected as one of 19 new astronaut candidates for the Space Shuttle program.
Thomas, 40, who specializes in microgravity studies, was chosen to become a civilian mission specialist on future Space Shuttle missions. He was among 87 finalists considered for candidacy by the 1992 NASA Astronaut Selection Committee and the third JPL employee to be selected as a mission specialist.
"This is the job of my dreams," said the Australian-born mechanical engineer shortly after yesterday's announcement.
"I'm still in shock," he said. "To go from more than 2,000 highly qualified candidates down to 19, and to get through all those hurdles is just incredible."
NASA's biennial selection of between 10 to 20 pilot astronauts and mission specialists begins in earnest in December of the year before candidates are named. This year's 87 finalists were selected from among 2,054 qualified applicants. The finalists were screened in December 1991 and January 1992, during five days of professional, medical and psychological examinations.
Mission specialists are trained in all aspects of ground control and Space Shuttle systems operations, Thomas said. After
a year of intensive training, they become permanent members of the astronaut core at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and are eligible to fly shuttle missions every several years.
Thomas, supervisor of the Microgravity Research Group within JPL's Space Materials Science and Engineering Section 355, oversees the technical supervision of 22 scientists and technicians engaged in experimental and analytical investigations in microgravity science.
Microgravity investigations focus on the behavior of materials, fluids and biological processes in the near-zero gravity environment of space. Such investigations will be central to NASA's U.S. Microgravity Laboratory mission series to be flown on the Space Shuttle beginning this June.
Thomas, who starts his training in August, will receive instruction in survival techniques, parachute training, extra vehicular activity spacesuit training, operation of all on-board computer and life support systems, and ground support operations.
His expertise also will be important to NASA's Space Station, where much work in microgravity experimentation will take place. Construction of the Space Station is tentatively scheduled to begin in the mid- to late 1990s.
A native of Adelaide, Australia, Thomas received a bachelor's degree in engineering in 1972 and a doctorate degree in mechanical engineering in 1978 from the University of Adelaide in Australia.
He joined JPL in 1989 as task manager for a technical group working on the development of non-invasive temperature measurement techniques to support microgravity studies.
The Pasadena resident is single and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in December 1986. His family lives in Adelaide, Australia.
Thomas' candidacy was announced along with Dr. John M. Grunsfeld, senior research fellow in physics at the California Institute of Technology, which operates JPL for NASA.
Grunsfeld, whose wife, Carol, is a JPL employee, is a specialist in gamma-ray and X-ray astrophysics. He is also co-principal investigator of an experiment on the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, launched from the Space Shuttle in 1991.
Thomas' work in microgravity studies will support the U.S. Microgravity Laboratory missions, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
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