SJU graduate Mark Vande Hei ’89 returning to space station

Alum Features

March 10, 2021

Mark Vande Hei is going back to space.

NASA announced Tuesday, March 9 that Vande Hei, a 1989 graduate of Saint John’s University, has been assigned to an upcoming mission to the International Space Station as a flight engineer and member of the Expedition 64/65 crew.

A release from NASA stated Vande Hei and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov are scheduled to launch their mission on April 9 aboard the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

It marks a return mission for Vande Hei, who was first selected as an astronaut in 2009, and who began his first spaceflight as a member of the Expedition 53/54 crew on Sept. 13, 2017. On that mission, the retired colonel in the U.S. Army spent 168 days in space, conducting a total of four spacewalks, before returning to Earth on Feb. 28, 2018.

On that mission his crew conducted investigations into the manufacturing of fiber optic filaments in microgravity, improving the accuracy of an implantable glucoses biosensor and measuring the Sun’s energy input to Earth.

This time around, the release states that Vande Hei will “work on hundreds of experiments during his mission to benefit life on Earth and learn more about living in space.”

Among the areas of research will be studies on cotton root systems and Alzheimer’s disease and a technology demonstration of a portable ultrasound device.

“The space station is a critical testbed for NASA to understand and overcome the challenges of long-duration spaceflight and those insights gained will help send humans to the moon and eventually to Mars,” the release read.

Vande Hei was born in Virginia and also lived in New Jersey before graduating from Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School in St. Louis Park, Minnesota in 1985. He then attended Saint John’s where he graduated with a degree in physics before earning his Master’s degree from Stanford in applied physics.

He was commissioned in the Army through the ROTC program and served as a combat engineer. Beginning in 1999, he became an assistant professor of physics at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. before his selection as an astronaut 10 years later.

He was one of just nine candidates selected from a pool of 3,500 applicants for the 2009 NASA astronaut class.

In May of 2019, he returned to SJU to deliver the school’s commencement address and receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree.

“I’m going to try to share with you some perspectives that I’ve gained from spending time living off the planet,” Vande Hei told the graduates that day. “All of us, without realizing it, are the crew of a spacecraft – the Earth.”

“Don’t just seize the day today – seize the century, your century,” he also said. “Humanity is counting on you. Make it count, and have a blast doing it.”

Astronauts have now been living and working aboard the International Space Station for over 20 years. According to the NASA release, a total of 242 people from 19 nations have visited the station in all, and it has hosted more than 3,000 research investigations from researchers in 108 countries and areas.

The release states those interested in staying up-to-date with Vande Hei on his mission can follow him on Twitter and get the latest space station crew news, images and features on  InstagramFacebook and  Twitter.

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Mark Vande Hei ’89 (Courtesy of NASA)