He traveled 65,200,000 miles around the planet while living aboard the International Space Station for 161 days, but a new journey has led astronaut TJ Creamer
to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
The former Expedition 22/23 flight engineer and NASA science officer is now learning what things are like from the ground up -- literally. Creamer is training to become a payload operations director in NASA's Payload Operations Center at Marshall. He'll become the first astronaut certified to lead the team that coordinates real-time science operations between crews on orbit, the Johnson Space Center in Houston and international partners around the world.
Credit: Emmett Given/MSFC
Above: Jason Norwood, left, a payload operations director at the Marshall Center, goes over procedures with NASA astronaut TJ Creamer during a training session in the Payload Operations Center.
Creamer said the decision to become part of the payload operations team was easy. "I want to help bring focus onto the important research happening on the station and the payload team's significant effort to bring science into the limelight," said Creamer.
He said working as a payload operations director is the perfect marriage of his operational background and his time on station. That time on station began when Creamer launched aboard a Russian Soyuz crew capsule on Dec. 21, 2009, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, docking with the station two days later. He returned with a safe landing in central Kazakhstan on June 2, 2010.
"TJ has a unique background having lived on station and being a certified capcom, or capsule communicator, who talks with astronauts in space," said Jason Norwood, a Marshall Center payload operations director and Creamer's training lead. "While it typically takes a year to become certified, his experience will speed that up by a few months. He will be performing plenty of on-the-job training and simulations, and learning payload operations processes, procedures and safety."
Long before he lived on the space station, Creamer built a relationship with the Marshall team -- as all crew members do. Various payload team members attend many of the crews' training events at the Johnson Center. "It's that cross-pollination that will make this move for me -- from a crew member to a payload operations director -- seamless."
Creamer plans to train in Huntsville at least two weeks every month until he becomes certified in the next year.
He also has a few goals for himself. "Number one, I want to have people be proud of what I'm doing and believe I am a contributor. I want to share my operational experiences with the folks at Marshall. And I never want a procedure named after me," he said with a smile, "as that could be a bad thing."
Prior to his selection as an astronaut in 1998, Creamer had a full career with the U.S. Army.
"What I'm hoping to do now is augment all of my previous experiences to make processes even stronger," added Creamer. "I so firmly believe in what we're doing on the space station. It's why I tossed my hat into the ring."