• Cosmonaut Gennady I. Padalka, Expedition 9 commander, works with the torso portion of an Extravehicular Mobility Unit space suit during a training session in the International Space Station (ISS) Quest airlock mockup/trainer in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at the Johnson Space Center. Astronaut Edward Michael (Mike) Fincke, NASA ISS science officer and flight engineer, looks over a procedures checklist.

    Photo / NASA

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Alumnus blasts off for half a year in space

Spending six months away from the family is a challenge for any family man, but spending that time away from the planet is tougher yet -- even for an MIT graduate.

Lt. Col. Mike Fincke of the U.S. Air Force (S.B. 1989) will blast off from Kazakhstan in the Soyuz spacecraft on Sunday evening, April 18, for a six-month stint on the International Space Station. Fincke, the expedition's flight engineer and science officer, will live on the ISS with cosmonaut Commander Gennady Padalka, and take two strolls in space.

"Only recently did I actually start to think how really exciting that is -- to be alone in the cosmos without a spacecraft around me, except for this suit that was put together by human hands," says Fincke in a news article published on NASA's web site. "It's made out of material and a little bit of metal and a lot of plastic, and yet we'll be able to look out there on our planet below and the stars in the sky and really experience a true space flight.

"And it's an honor as a rookie to get a chance to perform two spacewalks," he said.

The 37-year-old Fincke leaves on Earth his wife Renita, who is expecting their second child this summer, and his two-year-old son, Chandra. Fincke's parents are in Russia with Renita for the launch. Fincke's five younger brothers and two sisters will watch from the states.

Mike's three youngest brothers live in the Boston area. They plan to have a party Sunday evening; their guests will watch several computers showing the NASA webcast of the launch.

Jason Fincke, a 28-year-old law student at Boston College, spoke with his brother in Moscow last Saturday.

"He sounded good and very excited. He was really busy -- his two-year-old was running around so he still had his dad duties. I mean, this is his lifelong dream, but he has a life here on Earth, too," said Jason, who also said that the two brothers closest to Mike in age are named John and Glenn, after the astronaut.

"I feel pretty excited for Mike," said Jason. "There's some anxiety and a little bit of -- not fear - -maybe worry, from the Columbia disaster last year. We all know it's a dangerous business. But it's his dream and he's working with an international crew and doing something that's going to benefit all of humanity. We're really excited for him and supportive of him and we're going to take good care of his family while he's gone."

Fincke continues a long MIT tradition of astronauts. In fact, the Institute has had more alumni astronauts than any other non-military university in the nation.

Topics: Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Space, astronomy and planetary science, Alumni/ae


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