Three women are flying aboard the space shuttle Discovery. With another female astronaut awaiting them at the International Space Station, that makes for a record-setting four women in space at the same time.
That's not the only milestone being set by Discovery's mission: This marks the first time two Japanese astronauts have been in space at the same time.
Here's a brief look at Discovery’s seven astronauts:
Commander Alan Poindexter
Born: Nov. 5, 1961, in Pasadena, Calif.
Personal: Married with two children
The last time Poindexter flew, two years ago, he was second-in-command. This time he’s in charge, and it’s more complicated.
“I’m responsible for not only my training, but also everybody’s training ... and getting the mission objectives met, and bringing everybody home and all the equipment home safely,” he said.
The 48-year-old Navy captain is the son of retired Navy Adm. John Poindexter, national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan. “I’m real proud of my dad’s career, and I think he’s proud of mine as well,” he said.
Poindexter became an astronaut in 1998 after more than a decade as a naval aviator and test pilot. He considers Rockville, Md., home.
Wife Lisa is a portrait photographer, and he shares her passion for cameras. He has a vast collection of space shuttle shots he’s taken over the years, focusing on all the work that goes into getting the ships ready for takeoff.
Their two sons are in their 20s.
Pilot James P. Dutton Jr.
Born: November 1968 in Eugene, Ore.
Personal: Married with four sons
It was a sense of wonder about the universe that inspired Dutton to become an astronaut. So he finds it fitting that he’s making his one and only space shuttle flight aboard Discovery.
He remembers sleeping out in the back yard with his family, as a boy, one rare clear night in Eugene. He thought to himself, “There’s a God out there, and we’re going to learn more about Him as we explore the universe. For me, that was the big motivation.”
Dutton put a poster of a launching shuttle on his bedroom wall, and sought the help of his junior high school librarian to find out how to become an astronaut.
“I’ve always been a planner, I’m afraid,” he said. “It feels a little bit like sort of the perfect ending to the story in the sense of getting to be a part of the very end” of the shuttle program.
Dutton, a 41-year-old Air Force colonel, was a fighter pilot and test pilot before becoming an astronaut in 2004.
Wife Erin home-schools their three older sons, ages 6 to 12. The couple also has a 5-month-old son.
Mission specialist Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger
Born: May 2, 1975 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Personal: Married with one child
Former high school teacher Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger launched her spaceflying career thanks to a student’s question.
A girl wanted to know how astronauts go to the bathroom in space, and Metcalf-Lindenburger went to the computer to find out. That’s when she stumbled onto NASA’s ad for educator-astronauts. “This is like the perfect job,” she told her husband.
She applied and, several months later in 2004, was accepted. This is her first spaceflight; she will help operate the robot arm and coordinate three spacewalks from inside.
She's the first Space Camp graduate to rocket into orbit. She attended the Huntsville, Ala., camp when she was a teenager. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in geology and teaching certificate, but knew she wanted to work for NASA one day.
Now 34, Metcalf-Lindenburger taught Earth science and astronomy for five years in Vancouver, Wash. She's run more than 10 marathons. Husband Jason teaches seventh-grade Texas history in Houston. They have a 3-year-old daughter.
Mission specialist Stephanie Wilson
Born: 1966 in Boston
Stephanie Wilson is one of only a handful of black women to fly in space.
Wilson, 43, grew up in Pittsfield, Mass., torn between whether to pursue a career in astronomy or engineering. She chose the latter, went to Harvard University and worked on the Titan IV rocket. Following graduate school, she joined Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in 1992, working on NASA’s Jupiter-exploring Galileo probe. That’s when she met the first black woman in space, Mae Jemison, who encouraged her in her pursuits.
NASA picked Wilson as an astronaut in 1996. She became the second black woman in space 10 years later.
“We still have a lot to do to encourage young women and women of color to apply for these types of jobs,” she said.
She’s comfortable with being a role model. Her message to young women is: “If we can do it, so can they.”
This is her third spaceflight, all in the past four years. She will help operate the robot arm.
Spacewalker Rick Mastracchio
Born: Feb. 11, 1960 in Waterbury, Conn.
Personal: Married with three children
Rick Mastracchio, the Discovery crew's lead spacewalker, prepared for this mission with help from his 25-year-old son.
As he trained underwater for the three spacewalks he’ll conduct at the International Space Station, Mastracchio had his scuba diver son, David, by his side the whole time. His son is a safety diver at the astronauts’ training center in Houston.
Mastracchio, 50, an electrical engineer from Waterbury, Conn., started working at Johnson Space Center in Houston in 1987, specializing in shuttle software. He went on to work in Mission Control. After nine years of applying to be an astronaut, he finally made it in 1996.
This is his third spaceflight, all to help build the International Space Station.
“I enjoy the challenge, and if I have to have a job, this sure is a good one to hang onto,” he said.
As someone who’s been working in the shuttle program for 23 years, “I’m going to really miss it when it goes.”
Wife Candace is a hospital nursing director. They have three children, all in their 20s.
Spacewalker Clayton Anderson
Born: Feb. 23, 1959 in Omaha, Neb.
Personal: Married with two children
Anderson is returning to the International Space Station, but this time it will be just a short visit.
He spent five months aboard the orbiting outpost in 2007. This 13-day flight is a reward for all the arduous training that went into that long mission.
Anderson, 51, called down all of the towns in Nebraska, including his hometown of Ashland, while he was living at the space station. He’ll be too busy this time to repeat his “famous cities from Nebraska” list. “It’s a sprint instead of a marathon,” he said.
Anderson, an engineer, welcomes the challenge of living in space. Besides, it’s fun. “I got to be Superman everyday” at the space station, he said. “I flew to breakfast. I flew to work. I flew to the bathroom. I even flew while I was going to the bathroom.”
He’s spent his entire career at Johnson Space Center in Houston, arriving in 1983 during the early shuttle program. He became an astronaut in 1998. He will perform three spacewalks on this flight.
Wife Susan is an education specialist at Johnson. They have two children, ages 9 and 13.
Japanese mission specialist Naoko Yamazaki
Born: 1970 in Matsudo, Japan
Personal: Married with one child
Yamazaki is the second woman from her country to fly in space.
She grew up dreaming about space and the stars, and even drew detailed pictures of a space hotel while studying engineering at the University of Tokyo.
“As an engineer, my future dream is to create such a space hotel, so that many people can access space,” she said.
Yamazaki, 39, joined Japan’s space program in 1996 and worked on the space station lab that her country was supplying to the International Space Station. The Japanese Space Agency chose her as an astronaut three years later.
This is her first spaceflight. She will be in charge of the moving van that is flying up on Discovery for the space station.
She’ll join another Japanese astronaut who’s been at the space station for three months, Soichi Noguchi. She’s taking up Japanese curry and noodles for him.
Husband Taichi gave up his flight controller’s job in Japan to follow her career and help raise their 7-year-old daughter.
This report includes information from The Associated Press and msnbc.com.
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