St. Paul native is on way to space station
(AP) After years of training and a quick "Hi Mom" to the television cameras, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper became the first woman from Minnesota to launch into space on Saturday. Stefanyshyn-Piper, 43, is one of six crew members aboard the space shuttle Atlantis for a mission to continue construction of the international space station.
She'll complete two spacewalks during the 11-day flight, which was delayed four times over the last two weeks due to technical problems.
"I'm happy they had no problems taking off, but now, I'll be more happy when she comes back with a safe return," said her mother, Adelheid Stefanyshyn, who was at the launch in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and spoke to The Associated Press by telephone Saturday.
"There is always a risk, no matter how glorious it sounds," she said.
Television cameras captured Stefanyshyn-Piper as she was getting ready for Saturday's launch. She waved and said, "Hi, Mom."
Stefanyshyn-Piper, a St. Paul native, is joining an elite club of only six other U.S. women and a single Russian woman who have made spacewalks.
One of her brothers, Paul Stefanyshyn, said he was excited for his sister and he called the trip a "once in a lifetime experience." He said he'd pay attention to news reports over the next several days, as he tries to keep tabs on the mission.
"I hope that everything goes well," he said. "We wish her the best ... for the safe return for her and her crew."
He said watching the launch was an experience he couldn't really put into words.
"It was real incredible. It happened so quickly, it's almost - you're kind of in awe watching it," he said.
The problems that forced the launch to be delayed over the past two weeks didn't bother him much, he said, adding he'd rather have officials err on the side of caution than take a risk.
Stefanyshyn-Piper is a U.S. Navy Commander. She is married and has one teenage son.
She is a graduate of what is now Cretin-Derham Hall high school in St. Paul, and she earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. She received her commission from MIT's Navy ROTC program in 1985 and became a diving and salvage officer.
She has been an astronaut since 1996 and has waited a decade for her first trip to space. She's one of two rookies aboard this mission, which was put on hold after the explosion of Columbia 3½ years ago.
Piper thinks her background as a Navy diver has helped her train for her planned spacewalks.
"I have a good idea in my mind how difficult it is to do things when you're not standing on the ground ... how you have to think differently when you're kind of floating," she has said.