Saluki in the stars

By Gus Bode

Joan Higginbotham will soon go where no SIUC graduate has gone before.

Higginbotham, who earned her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering

In 1987, will be one of four mission specialists onboard the space shuttle Discovery on Dec. 7.


The 12-day flight will be Higginbotham’s first in space.

According to NASA’s Web site, the crew’s mission is to continue construction on the International Space Station. The crew will deliver and attach a truss and electrically reconfigure the station.

A NASA spokeswoman said Higginbotham was in training and would be unavailable for comment until after the mission.

According to her biography on the the Web site, Higginbotham began working at NASA as a payload electrical engineer two weeks after graduating in 1987. She later earned master’s degrees in engineering management and space systems from the Florida Institute of Technology.

Higginbotham was chosen for the 1996 astronaut class. After training, she returned to the Kennedy Space Center where she held several jobs, including helping crewmembers on the space station as they operated the robotic arm.

Interim Chancellor John Dunn said students – especially women in science and math – should recognize how successful Higginbotham has been and use her as an inspiration.

“I think this is a great moment in the history of SIU,” Dunn said. “Certainly, the Saluki spirit soars.”


The SIU Alumni Association honored Higginbotham as a Distinguished Alumni in 1999. Her picture and biography hang alongside other prominent graduates in the Recreation Center.

A group of several SIUC employees and alumni will attend the launch in December, said Ed Buerger, executive director of the SIU Alumni Association and associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement.

According to the Web site, Higginbotham will be in charge of operating the robotics arm as a loadmaster and transferring the truss from the shuttle to the station during the mission. She is also responsible for the release of several small satellites after the shuttle leaves the station.

Since the station entered orbit in 1998, it has operated on a temporary electrical system, similar to a generator. With the astronauts onboard the space station, Higginbotham and the crew will switch the temporary power system to a permanent system.

The mission will also deliver a replacement for one of the astronauts living on the station, according to NASA.

Sarah Lohman can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 255 or [email protected]