Press Release

WUSTL alumnus, NASA astronaut Behnken, to deliver Walker physics colloquium and third annual Walker lecture

By SpaceRef Editor
October 16, 2010
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Experiences and training as a Space Shuttle Commander topic of two talks

Robert L. Behnken, PhD, NASA astronaut and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, will deliver the Robert M. Walker Distinguished Lecture Series physics colloquium on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010 at 4 p.m. in Room 245, Compton Hall.

His topic will be “Astronaut Training.” In his case, military and academic training played roles in his selection to be an astronaut. He will also discuss NASA training for life on the International Space Station, including wilderness survival training, living for extended periods in the NOAA Aquarius underwater habitat and mission-specific training. He will also discuss the typical level of astronaut involvement with scientific payloads.

Behnken will deliver the third annual Robert M. Walker Distinguished Lecture at 7.00 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 21, in Room 300, Laboratory Sciences building.

In 2008, Behnken, a WUSTL alumnus, traveled to the ISS for 16 days, on a mission that delivered the first component of the Japanese experimental module and the Canadian robotic manipulator Dextre. In 2010, he again visited the ISS, this time for 14 days, on a mission delivering the Node 3 habitation module and the seven-windowed Cupola. During these missions he performed a total of six spacewalks, as well as many other ISS assembly tasks.

In his talk, Behnken will describe NASA’s manned exploration activities as well as discuss his experiences as a space shuttle crewmember and life on the ISS.

After the talk he will present a photograph of James S. McDonnell, whose endowment established the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences in 1975, to Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. Behken took the photo with him on the 2010 mission and it is signed by the astronauts on the mission and those in the space station.

“The two talks by astronaut Behnken would be of great interest not only to scientists, space enthusiasts, and those who aspire to become astronauts, but also to those who have a sense of adventure, those who wish to succeed in any field ,and to the general public that enjoys the benefits accrued through space technology, like television, GPS, and remote sensing, says Ram Cowsik, PhD, director of the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences and professor of physics in Arts & Sciences.

The McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences will be hosting will be hosting members of the St. Louis Junior Academy of Science at this event.

Behnken graduated from high school in Maryland Heights, Mo., in 1988. He earned bachelor’s degrees in physics in Arts & Sciences and in mechanical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in 1992. He went on to earn a master’s and a doctorate at the California Institute in Technology.

His thesis research was in the area of nonlinear control applied to stabilizing rotating stall and surge in axial-flow compressors. During his first two years of graduate study, he developed control algorithms and hardware for flexible robotic manipulators.

Behnken, who had been an Air Force ROTC student at Washington University, served as an engineer at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida before becoming the lead flight test engineer for the fourth F-22 at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Behnken has logged more than 1,000 flight hours in more than 25 different types of aircraft. He was selected as a mission specialist by NASA in July 2000.

The McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences in Arts & Sciences sponsors the lecture series in memory of Robert M. Walker, PhD, the center’s inaugural director. Walker was a pioneering physicist who helped shape research in the space sciences, says Ramanath Cowsik, PhD, professor of physics in Arts & Sciences and director of the center.

Both talks are free and open to the public, and the media are welcome. For more information, visit or call 314-935-6276.

SpaceRef staff editor.