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Susan J. Helms: Astronaut, Lieutenant General of USAF and Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame 2018 Inductee – 039

Susan J. Helms: Astronaut, Lieutenant General of USAF and Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame 2018 Inductee – 039

Today – I’m so excited to bring this very special Extraordinary Woman Radio interview with Astronaut Susan J. Helms – the first U.S. military woman in space! Susan is a retired Air Force lieutenant general and astronaut who was a crewmember on four space shuttle missions. She holds the world record for the longest space walk (8 hours and 56 minutes), and was the first woman to serve on the International Space Station.

Susan is part of my series featuring the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees.

This is an interview full of stories of space travel and the lessons that accompanied it. Apparently, you can learn a lot about life when you spend nearly 5 months aboard a space station with only 3 others aboard the international space station. There’s lots of time to ponder the wonders of the world and the wonders of the Universe. We talk about humanity, life, following your dreams, working hard, training hard and being ready.

Here are a few of the golden nuggets from Susan:

  • “Humankind is really all one family as opposed to different countries.”
  • “Confidence and competency goes such a long way, as a currency, especially for women struggling with biases.”
  • “Payoff comes from the journey, not the destination.”

Susan was a member of the first class at the Air Force Academy to include women. Lieutenant General Helms was commissioned from the US Air Force Academy in 1980, the first class to admit women into the ranks of the cadet corps. Upon graduation, she served as an F-15 and F-16 weapons separation engineer and a flight test engineer. Following completion of her Masters of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University, she served on the Faculty of the US Air Force Academy in the Department of Aeronautics. She was subsequently selected to attend the USAF Test Pilot School, Flight Test Engineer Course, Edwards AFB, CA, completing the year long school as a Distinguished Graduate. After graduation, she served as project officer on the CF-18 aircraft as a U.S. Air Force Exchange Officer to the Canadian Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment, at Cold Lake AFB, Alberta, Canada. As a flight test engineer, Lt Gen (R) Helms has flown in 30 types of U.S. and Canadian military aircraft.

Selected by NASA in January 1990, Lieutenant General Helms became an astronaut in July 1991. On Jan. 13, 1993, then an Air Force major and a member of the space shuttle Endeavour crew, she became the first U.S. military woman in space. She flew on STS-54 (1993), STS-64 (1994), STS-78 (1996) and STS-101 (2000), and served aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as a member of the Expedition-2 crew (2001).

After 12 years at NASA, Lieutenant General Helms transferred to Air Force Space Command in 2002. Over the next 12 years, she served in numerous staff positions and commanded the 45th Space Wing at Cape Canaveral AFS, FL. Her staff assignments include tours at Headquarters Air Force Space Command, Air Education and Training Command, and U.S. Strategic Command, where she was the Director of Plans and Policy (J5). Upon promotion to Lieutenant General, she commanded the 14th Air Force (AF Space Command) and the Joint Functional Component Command for Space (US Strategic Command), in a dualhat position at Vandenberg AFB, CA. As the U.S. Air Force’s operational space component to USSTRATCOM, Lt Gen Helms led more than 20,500 personnel responsible for providing missile warning, space superiority, space situational awareness, satellite operations, space launch and range operations. As Commander, JFCC SPACE, she directed all assigned and attached space forces providing tailored, responsive, local and global space effects in support of national and combatant commander objectives. Lieutenant General Helms retired from military service in 2014.

Since retirement, General Helms has spent her time on Board work, consulting and speeches. General Helms is currently on the Board of Trustees for the Aerospace Corporation, and on the Board of Directors for Concho Resources, Inc. (CXO). She currently serves as a member of the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, and in 2014, was appointed by President Obama to a two year term as a Trustee, Board of Trustees, Woodrow Wilson International Center, a bipartisan think tank in Washington DC. She is also a Board Member of the Association of Space Explorers, and has established her own consulting company, Orbital Visions, LLC, in Colorado Springs, CO.


The Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame mission is to inspire by celebrating and sharing the enduring contributions of Colorado’s distinctive women. To achieve this, the Hall educates the people of Colorado about the stories of the women who shaped our state and the nation’s history with courage, leadership, intelligence, compassion, and creativity. Their talents, skills, struggles, and contributions form a legacy that the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame is dedicated to protecting. I invite you to join us at the March 28, 2018 Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame 2018 Inductee Gala by purchasing your ticket here.

Check out some of the other 2018 Inductee Hall of Famers:

  • Gerie Grimes – Early Childhood Education activist/Non Profit leader The Hope Center – Listen
  • Dorothy Horrell – Chancellor of the University of Colorado at Denver – Listen
  • Leslie Foster – Non Profit Leader and Activist, President of The Gathering Place – Coming Soon
  • Faye Matsukage – Activist for Women and Asians in the Legal Profession – Listen
  • Gail Schoettler – Banking, Government and Women’s Activist – Coming Soon

Listen to other Colorado Women Hall of Fame inductee interviews from prior years.


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