Purdue's 'space odyssey' loses astronaut Janice Voss

February 7, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University alumnus Janice E. Voss, 55, one of the few women launched into space, died of breast cancer Monday (Feb. 6) in Scottsdale, Ariz., where she was receiving treatment. She had logged five space flights, spending a total of 49 days in space and traveling 18.8 million miles in 779 Earth orbits.

In 2000 Voss set her spacesuit aside and most recently led the payload effort for NASA's station integration branch of the astronaut office, with a focus on the international space station. In a December interview, Voss was asked what she thought people would recall about her era in space.

"I think the world will see 2001 as a major turning point in history, the time when our space odyssey took off," she predicted. "That is when we began having people in space continuously for an entire year, with our shuttle flights and the international space station."

Voss was a champion of the space program and spent time on campus and around the country talking about what it takes to have the "right stuff," whether as an astronaut or as one of the many more who support the program from Earth.

"In an era when no one who knows who the astronauts are as individuals - unless we are wearing our flight suits, most people don't recognize me - everyone still wants to hear our story," Voss said. "I have been able to use that spark of interest to help children and high school students understand the importance of studying science and math."

Voss was born Oct. 8, 1956, in South Bend, Ind., but considered Rockford, Ill., her hometown. Indiana, though, also was close to her heart, drawing her to frequently visit the family farm in Dupont in the southeast corner of the state.

Voss earned her bachelor's degree in engineering sciences in 1975 from Purdue and her doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Purdue often invited her back to campus, which she said was the reason she gave her memorabilia to the Purdue Library's Barron Hilton Flight and Space Exploration Archives.

"I was very honored, impressed" to have been asked back often and to donate to the archives, she said. "Purdue has always made its astronauts feel like they are a special part of its family."

Her contributions to the archives include not only professional papers and video of her space flights and interviews, but also records of her childhood. School report cards testify that she was a straight-A math student who also earned top marks for conduct and effort.

She became an astronaut in 1991, one of 23 Purdue graduates NASA has selected for space flight. Her first flight was aboard the STS57 for 10 days in 1993. She later was part of space missions in 1995, two in 1997 and the last in 2000. The last mission was an 11-day flight during which the international crew aboard shuttle Endeavour mapped more than 47 million square miles of the Earth's land surface.

In her first flight on the shuttle Endeavour in 1993, Voss supervised 22 experiments in the SPACEHAB, the world's first commercial laboratory module in space. In 1995 she operated Discovery's robot arm. She was payload commander in charge of 33 experiments on Columbia, which went into space twice because of technical problems in 1997. And she served as payload commander again in 2000 during her final flight on Endeavour.

Plans for a memorial service are pending.
Writer: Jeanne Norberg, 765-494-2084, jnorberg@purdue.edu

Related websites:

Q&A with Janice Voss

Voss named Distinguished Engineering Alumnus

Purdue announces addition of 2 more astronauts' papers to flight collection