Astronaut Mike Baker
left NASA on Jan. 7 to join private industry.
Baker was selected as an astronaut in 1985, after spending 10 years as first a U.S. Navy pilot, and then instructor at the US Navy Test Pilot School and the Empire Test Pilot School, earning the rank of captain. Following the Challenger accident in 1986, he participated in a project to modify the space shuttle fleet's landing and deceleration systems, and improve its safety margins during landing and rollout. He also was involved in the checkout and verification of the computer software and hardware interfaces for the return-to-flight mission, STS-26.
Baker's first flight came in 1991, when he piloted space shuttle Atlantis for STS-43 and helped put the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-5 (TDRS-5) into orbit. He piloted a second mission, STS-52, in 1992, when space shuttle Columbia delivered the Laser Geodynamic Satellite II to space.
He followed that up by commanding two missions – STS-68 in 1994 and STS-81 in 1997. For the first, space shuttle Endeavour carried the Space Radar Laboratory. The latter saw Atlantis make the fifth mission to Russia's Space Station Mir, delivering supplies, experiments and astronauts.
In all, Baker spent 965 hours in space.
Before his final mission, Baker made the first of what would become many trips to Russia and Kazakhstan. He attended the launch of the Spektr – the fifth module of the Mir – before he made his own trip, and afterward was named assistant director of Johnson Space Center for Human Spaceflight Programs, Russia. In that assignment and the ones that followed, he has attended every Soyuz launch since 1998, as well as the Proton launches that sent the Zvezda and Zarya modules to the International Space Station.
"It's hard to imagine NASA operations in Russia and Kazakhstan without Mike Baker," Kelly said. "He has been a part of our work there since the International Space Station came into being. He will be missed, but we wish him well in his next endeavor."
Baker was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and considers Lemoore, California, his hometown. He earned a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas in 1975. Over the course of his career, he has logged more than 5,400 hours flying some 50 different types of airplanes, and has made more than 300 carrier landings.