Campus Life

UWF alum heading back into space

More than any other Florida institution, the University of West Florida has six alumni who have gone on to become astronauts. Of those six, one is UWF alumnus John Phillips, retired Navy Reserve Captain and NASA astronaut, who is just beginning his training for his next mission into space. The STS-119 mission is targeted for launch in November 2008 when it will deliver the final pair of power-generating solar array wings and truss element to the International Space Station.

Phillips’ love of flying began while serving in the Navy. He flew A-7 Corsair aircraft, logging more than 4,400 flight hours and 250 carrier landings. It was during his time as a student naval aviator that Phillips received his master’s in aeronautical systems from the University of West Florida.

“I am not an aeronautical engineer, and yet I have spent most my career in the field of aero space,” said Phillips. “The training I received at UWF has been very important to me, learning guidance, navigation, stability and control – it probably helped me get hired as an astronaut.”

After leaving active service in 1982, Phillips continued his career in the Navy Reserves and was selected by NASA in 1996, beginning a lifelong dream he had since he was 10 years old and saw the first person fly in space.

Phillips flew aboard STS-100 “Endeavour” in 2001, logging nearly 12 days and five million miles in space where the crew successfully delivered and installed the Canadarm-2 Robotic Arm. During his second time to space, Phillips launched and landed in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian spacecraft. He served a six-month tour of duty aboard the International Space Station, performing duties which included station maintenance, a spacewalk in Russian spacesuits from the Pirs Airlock and hosting the “return to flight” visit of the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-114).

“We had to be able to do everything during that mission,” said Phillips. “It was a different mission, a different rocket and we had a lot more time to adapt to space.”

Currently, Phillips is settling into his new 30-by-30 foot office, which he will be sharing with his crew while preparing for their upcoming mission. Phillips, who is one of four NASA mission specialists for this latest mission, will be responsible for driving the space station arm.

“The size of the crew we have on this mission is ideal,” said Phillips. “It’s small enough that you can get to know everyone well, but it’s big enough that each person can afford to specialize in different elements of the mission, whether it be in space walks, robot arms, being the pilot or flight engineer.”

Finishing up their previous technical assignments, the crew members will begin full-time training for the mission this month. The crew will brush up on their previous skills and prepare to install the fourth truss element to the International Space Station.

Learn more about Phillips on NASA’s Web site at

By Megan Clark, University Marketing Communications