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Kay Hire

Claire Wilson, Auburn University
Mobile native Kay Hire (1959- ) is an engineer and educator, and former naval aviator and astronaut who flew on two Space Shuttle missions and logged more than 700 hours in space. She was the first woman to serve on a combat crew in the VP-62 Patrol Squadron of the U.S. Navy Reserve. She worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in various roles until her retirement in 2019.
Kathryn Patricia "Kay" Hire was born in Mobile, Mobile County, on August 26, 1959, to Robert E. Hire, an engineer, and Katherine Hire. She attended St. Pius the Tenth Catholic School and Murphy High School in the city. During her high school years, she learned about the first women taking naval flight training at the air base in nearby Pensacola, Florida, and became interested in pursuing that as a career. She entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1977, crediting her childhood love of water-related activities around Mobile with her interest in choosing the U.S. Navy as her preferred branch of service. She was part of the second class to allow women in the academy, and she graduated with a bachelor of science in 1981, specializing in mechanical engineering. She was commissioned as a Naval Flight Officer in 1982 and was deployed to the Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, Maryland. There, she worked as part of the Oceanographic Development Squadron Eight team conducting aerial oceanographic research and surveillance. She rose through the ranks to become Mission Commander and Detachment Officer-in-Charge on mission aircraft such as the Lockheed P-3 Orion surveillance model. In 1986, by that time at the rank of lieutenant, Hire became the first woman naval flight officer to serve as an instructor at the 323rd Flying Training Wing at Mather Air Force Base in California, teaching airborne navigation.
In January 1989, Hire resigned from active duty and was commissioned as a commander in the Naval Reserve at Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida. She continued to engage in surveillance missions and would become the first woman assigned to a combat version of the Orion surveillance aircraft. That same year, she began working for NASA at the Kennedy Space Center, also in Florida, as a space shuttle orbiter mechanical systems engineer and test project engineer. She earned a master of science degree in 1991 from the Florida Institute of Technology. By 1994, she was supervising the staff in charge of the orbiter mechanical systems and the launch pad access swing arms. She would be a member of the teams that managed more than 40 Space Shuttle missions. In December 1994, she was chosen to train as an astronaut at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, being the first Kennedy Space Center staffer chosen for the program, and began training the following March.
In April 1998, Hire joined the seven-person crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia as a mission specialist. The 16-day mission, designated STS-90, was the last shuttle to carry one of the modules of the Spacelab portable laboratory developed by the European Space Agency. STS-90 crew members were charged with conducting various types of experiments. It was also the only space mission devoted solely to conducting experiments in the life sciences. The Spacelab module Neurolab housed the most significant experiments focusing on the effects of spaceflight on human behavior and neurobiology, which were devised by space agencies from six countries as well as seven U.S. agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the National Institutes of Health. During the mission, Hire amassed some 380 hours in space.
After completing her Shuttle mission, Hire stayed on at Johnson as the Astronaut Office Lead for the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory and oversaw other shuttle equipment activities. She later returned to the Kennedy Space Center as part of its Astronaut Support Personnel Team.
In addition to her space-related work, Hire continued as an officer in the Naval Reserves, serving on the USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) with Seventh Fleet Detachment 111 and in U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Detachment 108. At the start of the U.S. military actions in Afghanistan in 2001, known as Operation Enduring Freedom, Hire returned to active duty as part of the staff of U.S. Central Command at McDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Florida. She was promoted to captain in 2002 and continued her active duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. After completing her duties, she returned to reserve status as the head of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego, California, and took command of the Office of Naval Research and the Naval Research Lab in the Washington, D.C., area.
In 2010, Hire once again left her Earth-based duties at the Kennedy Space Center to join the crew of the 13-day Space Shuttle Endeavour mission, STS-130, to deliver two modules to the International Space Station (ISS). Again a mission specialist, Hire was in charge of operating the robotic arms to transfer the cargo and help install the modules and other equipment. The first module, Tranquility, housed "quality of life" equipment such as a gym and sanitary facilities that had previously taken up valuable laboratory space, and the second module, the Cupola, provided ISS residents with a large, unobstructed view through its many windows of the Earth and the rest of space.
Hire retired from her military position in 2016 and NASA in 2018. In 2019, she founded the Astra Portolan Corporation, an aerospace consulting firm based in League City, Texas. Also in 2019, the Mobile City Council declared February 25 "Captain Kay Hire Day" and presented to her the key to the city; in turn, Hire presented the city with a Mardi Gras flag that she carried into space with her on her Endeavour flight. In November 2019, she rode aboard a float in the 93rd Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade featuring the Snoopy comic-strip character dressed as an astronaut to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing. She has earned numerous awards, including the National Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal, and the NASA Space Flight Medal.
Published:  July 29, 2020   |   Last updated:  July 29, 2020