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UTSI Grad William Oefelein Is Piloting Shuttle Flight

U.S. Navy Commander William A. (Bill) Oefelein, a 1998 graduate of The University of Tennessee Space Institute, is the pilot for NASA’s Shuttle Discovery’s 11-day trip to the International Space Station.

NASA chose Oefelein for the astronaut program in June 1998, and two months later he reported to Johnson Space Center for two years of training and evaluation and qualification as a space flight pilot.

Recently he was assigned as pilot on STS-116, and assembly and crew-rotation mission to the space station. Thursday nights’ scheduled launch was scrubbed due to weather conditions, and reset for tomorrow (Saturday).

Born in Ft. Belvoir, Va., on March 29, 1965, the commander considers Anchorage, Alaska to be his hometown. That is where his parents, Randall W. and Billye M. Oefelein, reside and where, in 1983, he graduated from West Anchorage High School. In 1988, he received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering form Oregon State University and his master’s in Aviation Systems from UTSI in 1998. He has logged more than 3,000 hours in more than 50 aircraft and has more than 200 carrier arrested landings.

“We are very proud of Bill Oefelein and the numerous other astronaut graduates of UTSI,” said Donald C. Daniel, UT associate vice president and chief operating officer of UTSI. “They have contributed significantly to our nation’s accomplishments in space exploration and also to the technical base of our great country. These pioneers have earned the respect and admiration of millions of in the United States and around the world. We wish Bill and his colleagues God speed, a highly successful mission, and a safe return.”

Oefelein is the 11th student from UTSI to participate in the astronaut program.

Throughout the course of the mission – his first in space — Oefelein will be writing a blog, answering questions from students in his home state and providing updates and insight from the shuttle.

He is to direct three spacewalks during the flight. Late in the mission, Oefelein is to undock the shuttle form the space station and cruise the shuttle around the station so other astronauts can take pictures and evaluate the condition of their work on the station. NASA has said that weather conditions could extend the flight beyond the scheduled 11 days.

The commander received his commission as an ensign in the U.S. Navy from Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Fla., in 1988. He entered flight training in Texas in 1989 and was designated a Naval Aviator in September 1990. He then reported to Marine Fighter/Attack Training Squadron 101 at Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, Calif., for initial F/A-18 training. Upon completion of this training, he was assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 146 at Naval Air Station, Lemoore, Calif., where he made overseas deployments aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Southern Watch.

Oefelein’s service awards include the Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal and the Strike/Flight Air Medal. At Oregon State, where he was a high scholarship graduate, he received the McClarran Award for Strike/Fighter competition.