Image: Space Shuttle Astronauts
Joe Raedle  /  Getty Images
The crew of STS-120, Commander Pamela Ann Melroy (front right), Pilot George D. Zamka (front left) along with mission specialists (L-R) Stephanie D. Wilson, Daniel M. Tani , Douglas H. Wheelock, Scott E. Parazynski and Paolo A. Nespoli walk out of the Operations and Checkout building in their flight suits during a launch rehearsal October 10, 2007 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
updated 10/20/2007 5:28:46 PM ET 2007-10-20T21:28:46

NASA’s next space shuttle crew, made up of six Americans and an Italian, has a woman in charge.

Retired Air Force Col. Pamela Melroy will sit in the coveted front left seat of the cockpit when Discovery blasts off Tuesday on a mission to deliver a new live-in compartment to the international space station.

She is only the second woman to command a shuttle flight — and “exceedingly grateful” she wasn’t the first. Ex-astronaut Eileen Collins was — in 1999 and again in 2005.

“It’s a tremendous additional burden with all the other responsibilities that you have as a commander to carry that with you,” Melroy said last month. “I don’t particularly care for the spotlight.”

Three of Melroy’s crewmates are space veterans like herself and three are rookies.

Here’s a quick look at all seven:

Mission commander Pamela Melroy does not see herself as a female leader.

“I am a Pam leader,” she said, noting that every leader is unique. It took her a while to find her own leadership style, one she is comfortable with.

Melroy, 46, who has degrees in science, is from Rochester, N.Y. She got her military start with the Air Force ROTC program in 1983. She flew the KC-10 at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., and went on to test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. She became an astronaut in 1995 and flew twice in space as the co-pilot.

Following the 2003 Columbia disaster, Melroy focused on reconstruction of the crew module and was deputy project manager for a team that investigated crew survival issues. She retired from the Air Force earlier this year.

Her husband, Douglas Hollett, a geologist, is vice president for Southeast Asia exploration at Marathon Oil Corp.

Pilot George Zamka never considered spaceflight within his reach, even when he was in the Marines.

The 45-year-old colonel and former fighter pilot was enjoying his military career when someone at test pilot school suggested he apply to the astronaut corps. It took a couple tries, but he finally was selected in 1998. This will be his first shuttle flight.

He ranks spaceflight as risky as combat flying.

“So how do I deal with that? I have faith in our team, in the good will of our folks to handle situations as best as they know how, that they don’t take anything lightly, they don’t take anything as an automatic and that they’re well trained and that we have tools developed to be able to handle things. And the rest that you can’t worry about, you can’t control, you just don’t worry about it.”

Zamka is married with a 13-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.

He grew up in Medellin, Colombia; New York; and Rochester Hills, Mich.

Dr. Scott Parazynski is the crew’s chief spacewalker and outdoor repairman.

He will use his medical skills to practice patching deliberately damaged shuttle tiles in a first-ever space demo of a high-tech caulking gun and goo.

“The tile that you’re working on, of course, is silica glass. It’s very brittle so if you were to nudge the tile with the applicator tip, for example, you could make the damage a lot worse,” he said. “So like in medicine, first do no harm.”

Besides being a doctor, Parazynski, 46, is an instrument-rated pilot and mountaineer. He was ranked among the nation’s top 10 competitors in luge during the 1988 Olympic Trials, while still in medical school. He became an astronaut in 1992. This will be his fifth spaceflight; on his third, he flew with John Glenn.

Parazynski is married with a 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, and considers home Palo Alto, Calif. and Evergreen, Colo. He is taking into space two Roosevelt medals that were presented to those who helped build the Panama Canal, “the moon shot of its era.” One of the chief engineers was his great-great-grand-uncle.

Army Col. Douglas Wheelock spent 10 days living underwater as a NASA aquanaut three years ago. Now he gets a shot at space.

He will make three spacewalks on his first mission, something he’s been aiming for ever since he became an astronaut in 1998.

“I keep kind of kidding with the rest of the crew. I say, ’Gosh, I hope we hurry up and launch so they don’t figure out they picked the wrong guy,”’ he said.

More seriously, he said: “Being able to look at the shuttle and the station silhouetted against deep space and silhouetted against the planet, I think it’s going to just take my breath away.”

The 47-year-old aviator is from Windsor, N.Y. He is married with a 20-year-old daughter.

Wheelock is taking into space a jersey and baseball card belonging to former New York Yankee Bobby Mercer, his boyhood hero who had surgery in December for a brain tumor. The two have since become friends.

Stephanie Wilson will be making her second shuttle flight in just over a year.

Her main role will be to operate the robotic arms aboard Discovery and the international space station during spacewalks and construction work.

Wilson, 41, an engineer, is among only a handful of black women who have ever served in NASA’s astronaut corps.

She worked on the Titan IV rocket for the former Martin Marietta Astronautics Group in Denver during the late 1980s. Following graduate school, she joined Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., helping with the operation of NASA’s Galileo spacecraft.

She became an astronaut in 1996.

An avid stamp collector, Wilson was thrilled when the post office in her hometown of Pittsfield, Mass., made a cancellation stamp in her honor after she returned from space last year. She called it “very humbling and very neat.”

She is single.

Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli is taking a variety of specialties from his homeland into space, including the one of which he’s proudest: the pressurized compartment named Harmony that will be attached to the international space station.

Harmony was designed and built in Italy for NASA.

Nespoli dreamed of becoming an astronaut while growing up in a small town near Milan.

“I was a kid watching the images coming from the moon and Mission Control, of the astronauts bouncing around. That’s when I decided, at least I had this dream, I wanted to be an astronaut. I always joke, Thank God I didn’t say I want to be a dancer or something, because I cannot. I don’t have the capabilities.”

Nespoli, 50, served his mandatory year in the Italian army in 1977 and chose to stay on. He ended up a major and a master parachutist, and spent two years in Lebanon during the 1980s as part of the peacekeeping force.

He joined the European Space Agency’s astronaut corps in 1998. This will be his first spaceflight. He will direct the spacewalks from inside the shuttle-station complex. He also will host an Italian dinner, and he’s keeping the menu secret.

He met his wife in Russia while he was training at cosmonaut headquarters.

Daniel Tani is making the trip to spend some time at the international space station.

He will change places with astronaut Clayton Anderson, who has been living on the station since June and will return to Earth aboard Discovery. Tani will remain on board until the next shuttle flight, currently targeted for December.

Tani is eagerly awaiting his first long-duration mission. He visited the space station in 2001, but stayed only as long as the shuttle did.

“I view being an astronaut like being a race car driver or something else that is really so cool that given the opportunity, you would jump on it,” said Tani, 46, a mechanical engineer. “I kind of view people, humans, in two categories. One who would go do anything to go into space and the other group who would do anything ... to not have to go into space, to not take that risk.”

Tani’s grandparents immigrated from Japan, and his parents were interned during World War II. Tani grew up in Lombard, Ill.

He met his wife while golfing in Cork, Ireland, where she was the marketing director. They have two young daughters.

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