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Voss Nearly 19 Million Miles Circling Earth

February 28, 2012 by staff 

Voss Nearly 19 Million Miles Circling Earth, Janice Voss, a space shuttle astronaut and scientist who explored the behavior of fire in weightlessness, how plants adapt to extraterrestrial flight and an array of other phenomena while logging nearly 19 million miles circling Earth, died on Monday at a hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz. She was 55 and lived in Houston. Janice Voss before duty as payload commander for a mission of the Shuttle Columbia. The cause was cancer, her mother, Louise Voss, said.

Dr. Voss was one of only six women to have gone into space five times. In her first flight, aboard the Endeavour in June 1993, she helped conduct experiments during what was also the maiden voyage of the Spacehab module, a 9,600-pound pressurized laboratory mounted in the orbiter’s payload bay. Spacehab was the first commercial laboratory launched into space, its primary purpose to offer industrial and academic researchers access to space.

Dr. Voss next flew on the Discovery in February 1995, a historic NASA mission in which a shuttle rendezvoused with a Russian space station, Mir, for the first time. During the mission Dr. Voss maneuvered the shuttle’s robot arm to grasp an astronomy satellite being deployed.

Dr. Voss’s next two flights were the only time an entire crew was launched twice to achieve the same mission. On July 1, 1997, the Columbia lifted off from Cape Canaveral four months after it had been called back from space because fuel cells on board had malfunctioned.

On that second flight, with Dr. Voss in charge of experiments as payload commander, the crew set more than 140 small fires in insulated chambers to test the behavior of fire in weightlessness. The tests were intended to gain a better understanding of how fire and heat work on Earth and also to address safety concerns after a 90-second fire flared aboard the Mir station five months earlier. She also coordinated experiments on how plants react in space, using a greenhouse containing about 50 spinach, clover, sage and periwinkle plants.

In her last mission, in February 2000 — once again aboard the Endeavour — Dr. Voss worked on the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, which mapped Earth’s land surface at unprecedented resolution levels.

Logging a total of 49 days in space in her NASA career, twice as payload commander, she also did research on fluid physics and material science (growing crystals and developing metal alloys, for example), as well as medical tests to determine the effects of microgravity on the human body.

On the ground in recent years, at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Dr. Voss oversaw astronauts’ training in conducting experiments in space. One trainee was Cady Coleman, who in May returned from six months on the International Space Station.

“We’re doing experiments 12 hours a day, and it’s like Christmas Eve for parents trying to put together toys that they thought would be no problem,” Ms. Coleman said on Wednesday. “Janice’s job was to make sure that the astronaut — whether he was a pilot or an engineer or a former policeman — could follow those directions. She was great at it, so clear, precise.”

Janice Elaine Voss was born in South Bend, Ind., on Oct. 8, 1956, to James and Louise Hinds Voss. Besides her parents, Dr. Voss is survived by three sisters, Linda Voss, Karen Voss and Victoria Fransham.

She was just 16 and a freshman at Purdue University when she first worked for NASA, as an intern at the Johnson Space Center. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in engineering science in 1975, she returned to the center to train crews in navigation and entry guidance. She went on to earn a master’s in electrical engineering, in 1977, and a doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics, in 1987, both at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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