updated 12/7/2006 5:07:17 PM ET 2006-12-07T22:07:17

Joan Higginbotham
Age: 42
Hometown: Chicago.
Family: Unmarried, no children.

Higginbotham had worked as an engineer at the Kennedy Space Center for several years when her boss urged her to apply to be an astronaut. She laughed about it and didn’t.

When he asked her about it months later, she was sheepish. Worried about the next time he would ask, she gave up and finally applied. She was selected on her second try.

Higginbotham was part of the 1996 astronaut class that included current crewmates Polansky and Christer Fuglesang. It also included three Columbia astronauts.

During nine years at the Kennedy Space Center, she participated in 53 shuttle launches and worked her way up to lead project engineer on the shuttle Columbia.

“After I left the Cape ... I had separation anxiety in that every day I had stepped foot on the shuttle, and worked on it and checked out the wiring, and all that kind of stuff,” she said.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and later earned master’s degrees in management and space systems from Florida Institute of Technology.

On her first mission in space, Higginbotham will be the primary operator of the space station’s robotic arm.

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