When the space shuttle Endeavour rocketsed into orbit Friday night, on a mission to the International Space Station, a Philadelphian was in command.
Navy Captain Christopher J. Ferguson ,47, is a Graduate of Archbishop Ryan High School, class of 1979. He then attended Drexel University where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1984.
Ferguson was commissioned from the Navy ROTC program at the University of Pennsylvania and received his wings in 1996.
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He has been an astronaut since 1998 and first flew aboard the space shuttle Atlantis in September 2006.
On that flight, which NASA designated STS-115 (Space Transportation System), he helped pilot the shuttle on a mission to add solar arrays to the ISS. Those solar panels effectively doubled the electrical power available to the station.
On STS-115, Ferguson was the designated pilot, he sat in the right, front seat of the shuttle. On commercial aircraft, that is called the “co-pilot’s” seat. Astronaut egos being what they are, NASA has no “co-pilot” designation for its space flights. They just have a pilot, commander and mission specialist.
On Friday's flight, Ferguson will actually be in charge of the shuttle, sitting in the left seat at launch and landing.
Ferguson and his six crew members will ferry a 32,000 pound module to the International Space Station, effectively expanding the ISS from a three-bedroom house, to a five-bedroom house!
If successful, his mission will allow NASA to double the capacity of the space station from its current crew of three to as many as six astronauts and cosmonauts.
Launch time is 7:55pm Friday. Six minutes later, the shuttle will fly high off the coast of Delaware!
With the foggy weather, NBC 10 Meteorologist Bill Henley says we probably won't be able to see the shuttle take flight.
If we were able to see the shuttle, it would only appear as a fast moving, blue-white star gliding over the ocean from the southeast to the northeast. The blue-white light will be the fire from its engines, which burn fuel at a rate of 1,000 gallons a second and putting out 1.2 million pounds of thrust.
Though Endeavour will move at more than 17,000 miles an hour at that time, roughly 5 miles per second, it will be so high it will only appear to travel across the sky at about the same rate as a commercial airliner.
Ferguson now lives in Houston, home to all NASA astronauts. His mom, Mary Ann, and step-dad, Norman, still reside in Langhorne, Pa.
Ferguson's mother-in-law, Trudy, is a resident of Norristown.