IMA prepares for space mission Published Dec. 6, 2005 By Mike Wallace 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFMCNS) -- As a young boy, Col. Mike Fossum was fascinated with flight and the space program. The senior individual mobilization augmentee for Aeronautical Systems Center's F-16 System Group is also an astronaut who will take part in a National Air and Space Administration shuttle mission scheduled for May 2006.A Texas native, Colonel Fossum was a senior in college and Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet in 1979."I'd heard about Wright-Patterson and the labs there, and I decided to go there," he said.He did during his Christmas break by means of permissive temporary duty orders and space-available flight. Roaming around Area B, Colonel Fossum said he visited laboratories and talked with engineers who were developing the ACES II ejection seat. Praising the helpfulness of the people he talked to here, he added, "It's strange to think what it was like that the people there were so excited about doing. I began to realize how important the work was."Colonel Fossum earned his commission in 1980 and was on active duty for 12-and-a-half years working in flight test programs, mostly with F-16 Fighting Falcons. He specialized in advanced systems during flight tests and has put together a number of system test programs.As an IMA, he's worked in the F-16 office supporting test efforts and looking at test aircraft requirements for the next 10 years, he said."There's still strong belief in supporting F-16s and continuing to enhance its capabilities," he said. "We're supporting several air forces around the world, and the need to enhance the F-16 may be compelling. It will be the workhorse for the Air Force for a long time."The colonel's active-duty career status changed when he was accepted into the NASA program and detailed to Shuttle Mission Control. Selected in 1998, he said that his first interview was in 1987."Some would call it obnoxious persistence," the colonel said."NASA periodically puts out the word to the services and to the world that it wants astronauts. The Air Force has a selection process (prior to applying to NASA), but civilians could apply directly. The interview was at NASA, and took about an hour with a selection board of 12 people, astronauts and NASA managers. Then, for most of a week was spent in a comprehensive physical, inside and out."Now scheduled to take part in a shuttle mission, Colonel Fossum described it as the second return-to-flight test mission."NASA will be testing modifications to fuel tanks as well as additional changes," he said. "As a mission specialist, I'll help run the systems and assist the commander."Leading up to the mission are long hours of training, including inside water tanks in situations designed to simulate the weightlessness of space flights.The 12-day mission will include docking with the International Space Station and taking a crew member up to join the station's crew."We'll have some medical experiments involving blood flow and balance with us as guinea pigs," he said. "Also, a lot of researchers want information on latent viruses that sometimes flare up under periods of stress. In other words, normally dormant viruses sometimes activate, and to detect them, researchers will take saliva samples. We'll be chewing a lot of cotton balls on the mission."Space walks and practice repairs are also expected during the mission. Colonel Fossum said a simulated leading edge with 15 kinds of damage to it will be in the back of the shuttle's bay. The astronauts will practice repair techniques using silica carbide slurry, a putty-like substance, and putty knives."We'll practice techniques on cracks and gouges and maybe holes," he said. Astronauts must be tethered during all space walks, he added.Near the space station, Colonel Fossum will position himself at the end of a 50-foot boom held by the shuttle's robot arm. He'll help measure the boom's stability as well as simulate repairs to the stations."The flight test engineer in me is excited about the chance to do this," he said.Of his work on F-16s, he said, "My son, Mitchell, just started at the Air Force Academy, and his dream is to become a fighter pilot. The work now has a different meaning for me. It's really personal."