Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper turns 60. Ten interesting facts from the biography of an astronaut of Ukrainian descent

On February 7, NASA astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, who has Ukrainian roots, celebrated her 60th birthday. Commemorating this event, we have collected ten interesting facts from her biography.

Her father is a native of Lviv region

Heidemarie’s father, Mykhailo, was born in the village of Yakymyv, not far from Lviv. During the Second World War, he was sent to work to Germany. After the war, he married a German, Adelaide, and then they both immigrated to the United States.

She speaks Ukrainian

Heidemarie’s father devoted a lot of time and attention to his daughter’s education. She knows Ukrainian history, culture and customs well, speaks Ukrainian and identifies herself as Ukrainian. She was also a member of the Ukrainian scout organization Plast. The skills she learned there — such as map reading and the ability to navigate terrain — later came in handy on her way to space.

Ukrainian flag signed by Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper

She started her career in the Navy

According to Heidemarie, she dreamed of becoming a pilot since the age of four when she first traveled by plane. However, the realization of her dream was hindered by vision problems. That’s why Heidemarie chose a different direction. She won a scholarship from the US Navy, which allowed her to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Heidemarie graduated in 1985 with a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering.

After graduation, Heidemarie joined the ranks of the US Navy. She trained at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center, specializing as a Diving Officer and Salvage Officer. In particular, Heidemarie participated in the development of the SS-48 submarine lifting plan and in the work to remove the EXXON HOUSTON tanker from the ground.

She adopted a double-barreled name as a reminder of her roots

In the late 1980s, Heidemarie married engineer Glenn Piper. She decided to adopt the double-barreled nameas a reminder of her roots. The couple has a son. He was named Michael after Heidemarie’s father.

She had to wait ten years for a space flight

Despite a successful career in the Navy, Heidemarie did not forget her childhood dream. In 1996, at the second attempt, she managed to pass the selection to the new team of NASA astronauts as a mission specialist.

Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper. Source: NASA

Heidemarie’s first flight was originally scheduled for 2003. However, due to the Columbia shuttle disaster, it was postponed for several years. As a result, her first space flight by the Atlantis shuttle took place in 2006.

She has performed five spacewalks

Heidemarie’s first space flight (mission STS-115) lasted 11 days. During it, she performed two spacewalks. The purpose of the operation was to install new solar panels on the ISS. Heidemarie became the eighth woman in history to perform a spacewalk.

Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper (left) during a spacewalk. Source: NASA

For the second time she climbed into orbit in 2008 during the STS-126 mission. The flight lasted 15 days. That time, Heidemarie performed three more spacewalks to service the ISS. The funny fact is that during one of these outings, the astronaut lost her tool bag. It became a satellite of the Earth and burned up in the atmosphere in August 2009.

She commanded an underwater expedition

In between the two space flights, Heidemarie was appointed commander of the NEEMO 12 expedition. She spent 12 days aboard NASA’s Aquarius underwater laboratory. The purpose of the mission was to do exercises simulating spacewalks, as well as practice the basics of interaction between astronauts.

Crew of NEEMO 12. Source: NASA

She returned to the ranks of the Navy after leaving NASA

In 2009, Heidemarie announced her decision to leave NASA. After leaving the astronaut corps, she resumed service in the Navy. In 2011, Heidemarie was appointed commander of the unit of the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center. She held this position until her resignation in 2015.

She has a number of awards

Over the years of service, Heidemarie got a number of awards. Among them is the US Navy Meritorious Service Medal, two Navy Commendation Medals and two Navy Achievement Medals. She is also awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. In addition, Heidemarie has the Order of Princess Olga III class.

She has been to Ukraine several times

Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper visited Ukraine several times. One such trip took place in 2007, when she was still an active NASA astronaut. Another visit took place in 2019. After the start of the large-scale Russian invasion, she published a message in support of Ukraine.

Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper during her visit to Ukraine in 2019. Source: kpi.kharkov.ua