Asian-American Pacific Islander Transportation History: Daniel M. Tani, Astronaut

NASA astronaut Daniel M. Tani was born in 1961 in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania. Less than two decades earlier, his parents Rose and Henry N. Tani and their oldest son had been forced to relocate from their California farm to internment camps for Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans during World War II.

As one minister noted during the funeral service for Rose Tani more than six decades later, however, that harsh wartime experience did not shatter the family’s abiding love for the United States. “After being hauled off to the internment camps as a young mother, [Rose Tani] just decided bitterness was not an option,” said the Reverend Robert Hatfield at the service. “Dan said how ironic it was that the same government who put his parents and big brother in an internment camp is the same government giving him the opportunity to travel into space.”

Dan Tani graduated from high school in Lombard, Illinois, in 1979. He earned a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1984 and then worked for Hughes Aircraft Corporation as a design engineer for that company’s space and communications group. He returned to MIT in 1986, receiving his M.S. degree in mechanical engineering two years later. Tani subsequently worked for Orbital Sciences Corporation, serving in such roles as senior structures engineer and mission operations manager. In 1996, Tani was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA.

After two years of training and evaluation, Tani qualified for flight assignments. In December 2001, he first traveled into space as a mission specialist for the Space Shuttle Endeavour mission STS-108. The primary objectives of this mission were to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) and provide transportation for astronauts on long-duration stays (officially known as expeditions) at that orbital outpost. With respect to the latter objective, Tani and the other members of the STS-108 crew on Endeavour delivered the Expedition 4 crew to the ISS and brought the Expedition 3 crew back to Earth.

Several years later, Tani described what spaceflight meant to him on a personal level. ​”We read and hear about the great turmoil all around the world, and that is upsetting to me personally,” he said during that interview. “From 200 miles [321 kilometers] away, the Earth is so beautiful. All the boundaries we see are natural, mountains, rivers and continents. They offer a beautiful perspective of the world as a unit and not with factions.”

In May 2002, Tani served as one of the aquanauts taking part in the second of the space exploration simulation missions officially known as the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO). Tani and the other members of the NEEMO-2 crew lived and worked for nine days in the Aquarius underwater laboratory, which is located 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) off the coast of Key Largo, Florida, and within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This undersea research station is deployed on the ocean floor, specifically 62 feet (19 meters) below the surface.

In October 2007, Tani made his second and final flight into space. He did so as a flight engineer serving at the ISS as a member of the crew of Expedition 16. Tani traveled to the ISS via the Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-120. It was during this stay at the ISS that Tani experienced a significant loss back on Earth when his mother was killed after a freight train collided with her car. (His father had died in 1965.) Tani returned to Earth in February 2008 as part of the Space Shuttle Atlantis mission STS-122.

Tani left NASA in 2012. His first post-NASA position involved working at the aerospace company Orbital Sciences Corporation (now Orbital ATK) as vice president of mission and cargo operations. Tani joined the faculty at the American School in Japan in 2016, and currently teaches science, engineering, and design at that educational institution.

For more information on Daniel M. Tani, please check out and the 13 January 2012 Silicon Republic article “Dan Tani Talks Space and Science” at

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