Mark L. Polansky B.S.'78, M.S.'78, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering commands STS 121

Purdue alumni Commander Mark Polansky led NASA's most challenging mission to date ends with a successful landing at Kennedy Space Center on December 22, 2006.

There were countless engineering and safety calculations behind the first night launch in four years on December 9th 2006. During nearly 13 days in orbit, the crew of STS 116, the 20th shuttle flight to the International Space Station -- rewired the outpost's power system which will provide permanent power and continued constructing the station by installing the P5 integrated truss segment. They also retracted a stubborn port side P6 solar array.

They delivered more than two tons of supplies to the station and brought nearly as much back home. Space Shuttle Discovery made a picture-perfect landing at Kennedy, completing a resoundingly successful mission.

Polansky received an Air Force commission following his receiving both his Bachelor and Master degrees from the School of Aeronautics & Astronautics at Purdue University in 1978. He earned his pilot wings in January 1980 at Vance Air Force Base (AFB), Oklahoma. From 1980 to 1983, he was assigned to Langley AFB, Virginia, where he flew the F-15 aircraft. In 1983, Polansky transitioned to the F-5E aircraft and served as an Aggressor Pilot, where he trained tactical aircrews to defeat enemy aircraft tactics. He was assigned in this capacity to Clark Air Base, Republic of the Philippines, and Nellis AFB, Nevada, until he was selected to attend USAF Test Pilot School, Edwards AFB, California, in 1986. Upon graduation, he was assigned to Eglin AFB, Florida, where he conducted weapons and systems testing in the F-15, F-15E, and A-10 aircraft. Polansky left active duty in 1992 to pursue a career at NASA. He has logged over 5,000 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft.

Polansky joined NASA in August 1992, as an aerospace engineer and research pilot. He was assigned to the Aircraft Operations Division of the Johnson Space Center. His primary responsibilities involved teaching the astronaut pilots Space Shuttle landing techniques in the Shuttle Trainer Aircraft and instructing astronaut pilots and mission specialists in the T-38 aircraft. Polansky also conducted flight testing of the NASA T-38 avionics upgrade aircraft.

Selected as an Astronaut Candidate by NASA in April 1996, Polansky began training in August 1996. His first flight was STS-98 (Atlantis) in February 2001. During this mission, the STS-98 crew continued the task of building and enhancing the International Space Station by delivering the U.S. laboratory module Destiny. Mission duration was 12 days, 21 hours, 20 minutes.

After traveling 5.3 million miles, the Space Shuttle Discovery's safe landing at Kennedy Space Center at 5:32 p.m. EST on Dec. 22, 2006 marked the successful completion of mission STS-116, one of the most challenging shuttle missions in NASA's history, and has been called a Magnificent Success .

Commander Mark Polansky BSAAE’78; MSAAE’78, thanked everyone at KSC after the landing. "This mission is really a demonstration of how well we can work at NASA when the ground folks, the contractors, the crew, the flight directors, and the control teams, work as a team together toward a common goal. It's always a goal to try and leave someplace in a better shape than it was when you came, and I think we've accomplished that."