Bringing Andy back home

Friday, 13 February 1998

NASA astronaut and University of Adelaide graduate Dr Andrew Thomas is returning to Adelaide to visit his parents ­ without moving from his post aboard the Russian space station Mir.

With the help of videoconferencing technology at the University, Dr Thomas will be able to speak with his parents "face to face" while he orbits the Earth.

Despite being separated by thousands of kilometres, Dr Thomas and his parents, Mr Adrian Thomas and Mrs Elizabeth Thomas, who both live in Adelaide, will be able to see and speak to each other as though they were in the same room.

Andy Thomas is a graduate of the University of Adelaide's Faculty of Engineering, earning his PhD in Mechanical Engineering in 1978. In 1996 he became the first Australian-born astronaut to take part in a Space Shuttle mission. Last year he was chosen by NASA for the Shuttle-Mir Research Program, and in January he began a four-month stint aboard Mir.

Because of the long time spent on board the space station, NASA provides a range of support services to its astronauts. This includes maintaining close contact between astronauts and their family and friends through frequent audio or videoconferencing link-ups.

Dr Thomas requested that his former university, the University of Adelaide, play a role in providing the videoconferencing link with his parents in Adelaide. The bi-weekly family videoconferences, which are closed to the media, are to be conducted at the University's Waite Campus.

"We have state-of-the-art videoconference technology at Waite that allows this type of communication with a space station to take place relatively seamlessly," said Mr Paul Finlay, the manager of the University's Educational Technology Unit.

"The process behind the connection is highly complex. The signals are beamed from the Mir to Moscow, then up to another satellite to Houston, and then to a second satellite from Houston to Adelaide. The end result is a reasonably clear picture and sound connection that allows Andrew to talk to his family face to face."

Dr Thomas is expected to complete his mission on the Russian space station in May. A series of "letters home" will be posted to NASA's website and can be viewed by the media and the public:


Contact Details

Ray Castillo
NASA Headquarters
Business: 0011 1 202 358 4555

Ms Robyn Mills
Media and Communications Officer
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 6341
Mobile: +61 410 689 084

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762