In-Depth Report

Empire Space Profiles: New Yorkers in Space Part I

Serena Sidlow & Patrick Chase
Aug 02 2023
29 astronauts who have ventured into space were born in New York, with another set to join their ranks later this year. These brave New Yorkers hail from every corner of the Empire State, and have walked very diverse roads to the stars.

This is the first in a series of in-depth profiles of these astronauts and how they became New York's most extreme adventurers and inspirational leaders.

*all images are sourced from NASA*

Nicole Stott

Birthplace: Albany, November 1962
Twitter: @Astro_Nicole
Time in Space: 103 days, 5 hours, 41 minutes

Nicole Stott was born in Albany, at the heart of the Capital Region of New York. Her family eventually relocated to the Tampa Bay area, which is where her exposure to aviation would shape her path towards becoming an astronaut.

She began her training at Clearwater Airpark with her sister and her father, until he was tragically killed in a crash of an experimental aircraft. She continued flying, eventually becoming an instrument-rated private pilot. She began her academic career at St. Petersburg Community College before eventually achieving a B.S. from Embry Riddle Aeronautical before starting work at Pratt & Whitney as a structural design engineer.

At 26 Stott joined NASA as an engineer at the Orbital Processing Facility, rising the ranks of NASA engineering operations in both Florida and California. In 1998, at 36, she moved to the Johnson Space Center in Houston as a member of the NASA Aircraft Operations team as a Flight Simulation Engineer.

In July 2000 Nicole was selected as an Astronaut Mission Specialist and spent a number of years training, including 18 days in an undersea habitat on the NEEMO-9 mission. Her first trip to space was in August of 2009 on the Space Shuttle Discovery, where she performed a spacewalk outside of the International Space Station. She returned to Earth in November of that year aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. She returned to space in February of 2011, again on the Space Shuttle Discovery, and returned to Earth in March of that year. Between both flights Nicole Stott has spent over 103 days in space.

In a unique first, Stott participated in the first *live* Tweetup from space, sent from the International Space Station in September of 2009 during her first flight to space.

After her career at NASA Nicole stayed in Florida, where she has pursued a number of artistic passions. She has written a book, “Back To Earth~ What Life In Space Taught Me About Our Home Planet - And Our Mission To Protect It” and founded the Space for Art Foundation. She also had a chance to meet with another famous astronaut artist, Alan Bean.

Nicole is an inspiration to all, not just because of her extraordinary feats in and out of space. She chose to go into the profession that killed her father and became one of the best in her field. Her work on the ISS has helped to further our knowledge and experimentation within space.

Douglas Wheelock

Birthplace: Binghamton, May 1960
Twitter: @Astro_Wheels
Time in Space: 178 days, 9 hours, and 34 minutes

Douglas Wheelock was born in the Southern Tier of Upstate New York and spent his childhood in Binghamton. He was inspired as a young boy by the Apollo Moon landings which was his primary inspiration in becoming an astronaut. He graduated from Windsor High School and then attended West Point, eventually becoming an Army Aviator. He also obtained a Masters in Aerospace Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Wheelock became an accomplished aviator, graduating at the top of his flight class and eventually joining the Aviation Directorate of Combat Developments as an advanced weapons research and development engineer. He obtained over 2,500 flight hours on 43 different aircraft.

Wheelock entered Astronaut Training in August of 1998, eventually being assigned to NASA’s Russian Liaison program office. Over the course of his career he would twice serve as the NASA Director of Operations - Russia.

In October 2007 Wheelock took his first journey to space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. During the 15 day mission he performed 3 spacewalks to attach a new component to the International Space Station.

Wheelock next launched aboard a Russian Soyuz in June 2010, and in September of that year became the first Army officer to command the International Space Station. He returned to Earth in November of 2010. He has performed multiple emergency spacewalks during his 178 days in space, and participated in multiple novel social media opportunities to connect with the general public.

After serving as an astronaut Wheelock again returned to active duty, serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2011. More recently he spent time helping NASA develop the Orion spacecraft at the Glenn Research Facility in Ohio.

Douglas Wheelock's journey is not just about personal achievements; it is a testament to the power of collaboration and international cooperation in space exploration. As NASA Director of Operations - Russia, he bridged cultures and languages to foster unity in a realm where borders blur, and humanity unites as one.

Steven Swanson

Birthplace: Syracuse, December 1960
Time in Space: 195 days, 20 hours, and 47 minutes

Steven Swanson was born in Syracuse in the heart of Central New York, although he considers Steamboat Springs Colorado to be his hometown. Growing up in a small ski town and spending considerable time camping helped prepare him for long stays aboard the International Space Station later in life.

Swanson stayed in Colorado to obtain his Bachelors in Engineering Physics before heading to Florida Atlantic University for a degree in computer systems and Texas A&M for a doctorate in computer science. He spent time as a software engineer before joining NASA, later explaining that his interest in space didn’t develop until he was in graduate school.

He joined NASA in 1987 as a Flight Systems Engineer working on the Shuttle Training Aircraft, eventually becoming an astronaut in 1998. His first trip to space came in June of 2007 when he spent under a month aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on a supply mission to the International Space Station. He completed a similar mission in March of 2009 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, where he served as lead spacewalker during another construction delivery mission to the ISS.

His third journey to space was his longest, launching to the International Space Station in March 2014 aboard a Russian Soyuz and returning in September of that year. Over the course of his three trips he accumulated over 195 days in space and participated in 5 spacewalks totalling almost 28 hours.

Swanson retired in 2015 to pursue an academic career in Boise, Idaho where he spends time with his wife and three children. His hobbies include bicycling, basketball, skiing, weightlifting, running, woodworking.

The story of Steven Swanson lets us draw strength from his extraordinary odyssey. May his legacy ignite a fire in our hearts, inspiring us to reach for the stars and forge a better world, not just for ourselves but for generations yet to come. For in the vastness of space and the boundless realm of human potential, we find the true essence of our shared humanity - a force that knows no boundaries and knows no end.

Ronald Garan Jr.

Birthplace: Yonkers, October 1961
Twitter: @AstroRon
Time in Space: 177 days, 23 hours, and 54 minutes

Ronald Garan Jr. was born and raised in Yonkers, just north of New York City, where he eventually graduated from Roosevelt High School. He ventured upstate for college, receiving a degree in business from SUNY Oneonta. Later he would continue his education in Florida, receiving degrees in Aeronautics from both Embry-Riddle and the University of Florida.

Garan joined the Air Force in 1984 and was commissioned on the F-16 in 1985, serving as a combat-ready pilot in West Germany until 1988. He flew combat missions during Operation Desert Storm and eventually became a Flight Instructor. He has logged over 5,000 hours on more than 30 different aircraft.

NASA selected Garan to be a pilot in 2000, and his training included an 18 day stay at the underwater Aquarius laboratory. His first flight to space came in May-June 2008 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery where he spent 3 spacewalks helping to attach new Japanese modules to the International Space Station.

His second trip to space came in April of 2011 on a Russian Soyuz where he spent 6 months aboard the ISS, completing a 4th spacewalk. Garan has spent just under 178 days in space and over 27 hours on spacewalks.

Garan has maintained a very active post-NASA career. He has published numerous books about the perspective he gained while in space, maintains a Youtube channel, and has assisted in bringing clean water to parts of Rwanda. Garan is a devout Catholic and has been quite open about the role that his faith plays in his perspective of space travel.

Ronald Garan Jr.'s legacy serves as a shining example of how space exploration can ignite profound change and inspire humanity to become better stewards of our planet. His advocacy for collaboration, compassion, and the "Orbital Perspective" continues to be a guiding light for individuals and organizations striving to create a more sustainable and equitable future for all.

Mike Massimino

Birthplace: Oceanside, August 1962
Twitter: @Astro_Mike
Time in Space: 23 days, 19 hours, and 47 minutes

Mike Massimino was born in Oceanside and raised in Franklin Square, both on Long Island. He graduated High School from Frank Carey Junior-Senior High School before attending Columbia University to obtain a degree in Industrial Engineering. He went on to study at M.I.T. and received a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, where he conducted research on human operator control of space robotics systems in the Human-Machine Systems Laboratory.

While at M.I.T. he became a research fellow working with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and after graduation took roles teaching at Rice University and the Georgia Institute of Technology focused on the machine-human interface.

Massimino was selected as a NASA astronaut candidate in May 1996 and eventually became a Mission Specialist with an assignment to the Astronaut Office Extravehicular Activity branch. His first trip to space came aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in March 2002 on a mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. The mission set a record with over 35 hours on 5 spacewalks, two of which Mike participated in.

His second mission was also a Hubble servicing mission, launching on the Space Shuttle Atlantis in May 2009. During this mission Massimino became the first person to use Twitter in space, writing "From orbit: Launch was awesome!! I am feeling great, working hard, & enjoying the magnificent views, the adventure of a lifetime has begun!"

Massimino retired from NASA in 2014 to take up a teaching position at his alma mater, Columbia University. He’s become a bestselling author with his book Spaceman: The True Story of a Young Boy’s Journey to Becoming an Astronaut and is a frequent guest on various space related media programs.

Mike's journey from a young boy enamored by space to a NASA astronaut and educator is a testament to the power of dedication, hard work, and a willingness to embrace challenges. Through his space missions, educational initiatives, and inspiring words, he continues to ignite a sense of wonder and curiosity in people worldwide, encouraging us all to reach for the stars and unlock the secrets of the universe.


New Yorkers have been venturing to the stars since the beginning of the Space Age, charting unique paths to the stars and inspiring multiple generations here on Earth.

Nicole Stott, Doug Wheelock, Steve Swanson, Ronald Garan, and Mike Massimino exemplify the best that the Empire State has to offer. Hard work, tenacity, vision, teamwork, and a desire to give back to humanity are the common threads that bind these brave astronauts together. Yet each has a special story of how they achieved their dreams, and these stories will continue to inspire us for generations to come.

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