Queen's alumnus to command International Space Station

When Andrew ‘Drew’ Feustel was at Queen’s University during the 1990s, he had a reputation for being “Mr. Fix It.”

Now, Feustel will be putting those skills to use on a much loftier plane.

Born in Michigan, the Canadian-American astronaut took off in late March for the International Space Station, where he’ll be taking command in June.

“He could fix anything with a bit of bale wire, some chewing gum and a pocket knife,” recalled Herb Helmstaedt, a professor emeritus of geology at Queen’s who supervised Feustel’s thesis.

“Anything that was broken in the department, he was the man to go to.”

Andrew Feustel, a Queen’s alumnus and astronaut, began his third space mission this month. He’ll live aboard the International Space Station for six months. 0:44

Feustel moved to Kingston in the mid-1990s with his wife Indira — who is from Cornwall, Ont. — to complete his doctorate degree.

​Helmstaedt told CBC Radio’s All in a Day how he and Feustel would have weekly meetings to discuss the progress of his thesis.

He recalled, at one point, asking Feustel what he might do upon its completion.

“He said ‘Oh, I’m going to become an astronaut,'” Helmstaedt said. “I was taken aback!”

A few short years and one phone call to astronaut Chris Hadfield later, Feustel was accepted to NASA in 2000, said Helmstaedt — on his very first try.

Third time in space

This will be Feustel’s third time in space, having previously joined missions in 2009 and 2011.

It was the 2009 mission that affirmed his reputation for handiness.

Feustel was sent on a space walk to replace a camera on the Hubble Space Telescope, which involved unscrewing four bolts.

He’d removed three of the bolts but was struggling with the last one.

“The fourth bolt just did not want to move,” said Helmstaedt, who was watching from the university with other faculty members.

The space centre in Houston wanted to abort the mission and call Feustel in because he’d been out for almost too long, Helmstaedt said.

But Feustel kept his cool and persisted, at one point casually asking the centre what river he was flying over.

Feustel eventually managed to remove the last bolt and complete the mission.

Queen’s proud

Helmstaedt told All in a Day he wasn’t surprised when he found out his former student would be taking command of the ISS.

“I talked to him in 2016 and he told me then that he was … preparing for this trip.”

The Queen’s grad will spend five months on the ISS, commanding the station for three of those months. He will oversee several studies, making observations on thunderstorms in Earth’s atmosphere and the effects of microgravity on bone marrow.

Feustel has already completed one space walk, and will give a talk Friday to Queen’s students live via video chat.

Helmstaedt said it’s a sign that his former student — who’d given two previous talks to Queen’s students since becoming an astronaut — has a deep connection with the university.

“I think he has inspired quite a bit,” Helmstaedt said.

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