Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Mark L. Polansky, Korean-American Astronaut

In 2001, Mark L. Polansky became the first Korean-American to travel into outer space. He had been born in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1956. His mother Edith is of Korean descent, and his late father Irving was Jewish. When he was only 13, Mark Polansky began to develop a strong interest in spaceflight while watching the live TV coverage of the historic mission of the Apollo 11 astronauts to and from the Moon.

In 1978, Polansky received both a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering and a master of science degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Purdue University. Upon graduation from that university, he received a U.S. Air Force (USAF) commission. Polansky earned his pilot wings at Vance Air Force Base (AFB) in Oklahoma. He subsequently learned how to fly aircraft such as the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and the Northrop F-5E. In addition, Polansky attended and graduated from USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB in California.

Polansky left active duty in the USAF in 1992 to pursue a career at NASA. He initially worked for NASA as an aerospace engineer and research pilot at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and his responsibilities included providing instructions to astronauts on Space Shuttle landing techniques.

Polansky was selected as an astronaut candidate for NASA in 1996. After two years of training and evaluation, he was first assigned to the astronaut support personnel team at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. As a member of that team, Polansky helped provide logistical support for Space Shuttle launches and landings.

Polansky made his pioneering 2001 journey into space as part of the seven-person crew on STS-98, a mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station (ISS). Polansky served as that mission’s pilot. He traveled into space again in 2006, serving this time as commander of the seven-person crew on STS-116. For this mission, Polansky and his fellow crew members flew to the ISS via Space Shuttle Discovery. Polansky’s third and final spaceflight took place in 2009, when he was the commander of STS-127. During this mission, Polansky and six other crew members made their way to the ISS via Space Shuttle Endeavour. As a result of all three of these expeditions, Polansky spent a total of 41 days, 10 hours, and 50 minutes in space.

Polansky retired from NASA in 2012. “Mark is a remarkably talented individual,” said Peggy Whitson, who was serving as chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office at the time. “His skills as an aviator coupled with his engineering expertise were a valuable contribution to our team.”

For more information on Mark L. Polansky, please check out https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/polansky_mark.pdf

Additional information on Asian American astronauts is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Asian_Americans#Space

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