Astronaut Shane Kimbrough: 173 days in space

The Kimbroughs are a prominent Hernando County family. Their Hernando County origins trace back to the early 1900’s with Spring Lake cattle and citrus farmer James Walt Kimbrough. James' grandson Pierce Kimbrough served on the Hernando County School Board in the 1950’s. Their great grandson, Jim Kimbrough, is currently the Chairman of SunTrust Bank, Nature Coast region. (Jim is also the son in law of Alfred McKethan who was a prominent businessman and citrus grower. He served most notably as head of the FDOT, Chairman of Hernando State Bank, Chairman of SWFWMD governing board.) Jim and his brother Robert Kimbrough are Hernando High graduates. Robert who graduated in 1960, was the Leopard’s quarterback. He left Brooksville to attend the University of Florida and then Florida Southern College.

Robert led a life that took him all over the world. He served two tours in Vietnam, the first as a lieutenant with the artillery; the second as a pilot, flying fixed-wing Cessna reconnaissance planes known as Bird Dogs. While in the military, he was assigned to several military posts across the United States, Korea and Germany. Robert retired after a 23-year career as a Lt. Colonel. After retirement from the military, Robert went into law enforcement and returned to the area in 2000 to work with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office as an Executive Assistant to the Sheriff.

Shane posted "The Palm Islands of Dubai look amazing from @space_Station" via Twitter Feb. 26, 2017

Robert’s son, Shane, was born in Killeen, TX where Robert attended officer candidate school. Like his father, Shane would see the world. However, Shane would have a higher vantage point. He would be able to see the world from outer space.

Shane, his brother Scott and mother Deann traveled with Robert during his military assignments around the world. In 1989, he graduated from West Point with a B.S. in aerospace engineering. He was then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and became an army aviator in 1990. His career in the army took him to Southwest Asia, serving in Operation Desert Storm with the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized). While with the 24th Infantry he served as an attack helicopter platoon leader, aviation liaison officer and attack helicopter battalion operations officer.

In 1998, Shane received a Masters of Science degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology and then went on to teach at West Point as an Assistant Professor of Mathematical Sciences.

Shane’s career with NASA would begin two years later as a Flight Simulation Engineer. In 2004, he was chosen to become an astronaut candidate. Four years later, and following rigorous training, he would complete his first spaceflight logging 15 days, 20 hours, 29 minutes and 37 seconds in space. On this mission he completed two spacewalks.

Unfortunately, just weeks before Shane’s most recent venture into space, his father Robert passed away (September 20, 2016).

Soyuz Rocket launch Oct. 19, 2016 via Twitter.  Shane writes, " Amazing ride on the Soyuz rocket last week!  Big thanks to all who helped with our launch..."

Shane lifted off to the International Space Station on October 19, 2016. (The Soyuz MS-O2 spacecraft was scheduled to take off on September 23, 2016 for the International Space Station, but it was postponed for technical difficulties on September 16.)

During this mission, which lasted 173 days, he served as Expedition 50 Commander.

“Being the Commander of the Space Station, I was not just interested in what I was doing, but what the entire crew was doing,” said Shane.

Kimbrough along with other crew members conducted over 250 experiments in biotechnology, biology, earth and physical science. More specifically, investigations were conducted on microgravity expanded stem cells in order to improve stem cell production for medical therapies on Earth. Additionally, Expedition 50 crew members conducted a Tissue Regeneration-Bone Defect study in order to find new treatment options for chronic or non-healing wounds.

Shane particularly enjoyed one investigation which involved growing lettuce.

Top: Shane Kimbrough plants lettuce on the Space Station Oct. 26, 2016 via Twitter @astro_kimbrough

He explained in an April 12, interview, “It sounds pretty simple,” but it was pretty cool to be able to grow things like I was Matt Damon on the Martian or something… It’s something we’re actually working on so when we do go to a place like Mars, we’ll be able to grow our own food.”

“The lettuce was amazing. It took about 4 to 6 weeks [and then] we got to harvest it and eat it for dinner one night,” he said.

Shane also took part in four spacewalks during this mission, competing various tasks which included preparing for and installing six new lithium ion batteries for the space station. The spacewalks are dangerous, but they are more focused on completing the task, said Kimbrough. “It’s a very unforgiving environment,” he said. He explained that as the leader of the spacewalks, he made sure the team was focused on every little thing they were doing while outside. “That way it reduced the risk for us while we were out there,” said Shane.
Throughout the mission Shane posted stunning views of our planet from the International Space Station. “I think the most memorable thing was just looking out the windows at our planet earth and seeing how spectacular earth is.” Shane explained that in the last few days of the mission, he enjoyed sitting by the window over an entire orbit which took approximately 90 minutes.

Landing safely in Kazakhstan, on April 10, 2017 via Twitter @astro_kimbrough

Shane returned to Earth on April 10, 2017, landing southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. Describing the journey home, he said, “It was crazy. Let’s put it that way. It was quite a ride.” He continued, “The landing itself was extremely entertaining… We hit, [then] we bounced, so we hit again really hard and then we rolled a few times just for added effects and then once we finished rolling, I was hanging from the top down so that was a really interesting feeling after not experiencing gravity for awhile. Once the search and rescue forces got there, they rolled us to a more normal position.”

Two days after his return he said, “I’m feeling pretty good. A lot better than I expected at this point.”

Supermoon on Dec. 14, 2016.  Shane posts via Twitter, "Incredible view of the #SuperMoon captured by @thom_astro."

During his time at the space station, Shane was able to see the supermoon event. “As we were looking on the planet, the moon was above us. To see how bright that supermoon was on the earth, it was almost like daytime from our perspective. It was really really special.”
At forty nine years old, Shane said he’d love to go to the moon if the opportunity arises. “I was inspired by the Apollo astronauts when I was a little kid. That made me start thinking about wanting to be an astronaut. I think it’d be a fitting way to end my career, by putting a footprint on the moon.”