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Purdue grad prepares for liftoff from Kazakhstan in first trip into space

Purdue astronaut getting ready for launch to space station

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A graduate of Purdue University’s astronaut program is getting ready for her first trip into space on Friday from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome Launch Site 31 in Kazakhstan.

NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara was scheduled to launch on alongside two cosmonauts from Russia. NASA says the mission is to relieve colleagues who have been on the International Space Station for over a year.

The launch is scheduled for 11:44 a.m. Eastern (8:44 p.m. in Kazakhstan), will be livestreamed from NASA.

O’Hara will spend six months on the station, NASA says.

The 2009 Purdue graduate qualified for Purdue’s “cradle of astronauts” program when NASA selected her for the astronaut corps in 2017, said during an interview published Tuesday by the College of Engineering.

“Purdue set the stage for the rest of my career,” O’Hara said when speaking with Purdue staff.

O’Hara finished the intense astronaut program in 2020. Training included learning the Russian language, which is notoriously difficult for a native English speaker. She then spent a year living at Star City, Russia’s home for cosmonaut training, as NASA’s director of operations there.

She says the launch will add to the rich collaborative history between the U.S. and Russian space programs that dates all the way back to the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.

“I really loved living there and working with the people there, so I was excited for the opportunity to fly on Soyuz. And I think that the experience of flying on another country’s rocket is very unique,” O’Hara said in the release. “Space exploration is one of the few areas where different countries can cooperate together and do something that’s totally epic, that’s totally peaceful and science-driven and meant to benefit all of humankind.”

She’s also handled NASA’s broad-based space station preparation with rampant enthusiasm. Astronauts are expected to be generalists, she says, able to tackle every problem at any time with a limited set of tools, even when the cargo they’ll handle wasn’t fully etched in stone. 

O’Hara says her continuing education ranges from geology to robotics, from medical emergencies to piloting a jet.

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