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Astronaut Rex Walheim
 
Higher than cloud 9: alumnus Rex Walheim flies Cal flag in space
31 May 2002

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs

Cal's blue-and-gold pennant flew higher than a flagpole, higher than a kite, and definitely higher than cloud 9 last month.

Alumnus Rex Walheim, an electrical engineer and NASA mission specialist, unfurled the blue-and-gold school flag inside the Space Shuttle "Atlantis," 122 nautical miles above Earth's surface. Next to him was fellow astronaut Steve Smith, a red-and-gold flag-waving Stanford University graduate-in-space.

The two were part of a 10-day, 4.5-million-mile mission, April 8-19, designed to deliver additional power and data communications capabilities to the orbiting International Space Station.

Walheim, 39, participated in the first two space walks of his career, using his electrical engineering skills to help install and connect a giant metal-and-electronics structure to one platform of the space station.

"We bolted down the new segment and then provided power and data connections," he said upon his return to Earth. The girder-like truss is considered the "backbone" of an eventual cross-beam that will stretch more than 350 feet from tip-to-tip and support an acre of solar panels and giant cooling radiators.

Walheim called the space walks "a privilege," but admitted that the Cal pennant also came in handy.

"My partner, Steve Smith, was from Stanford, so it was very fortunate that I had the Cal pennant along with me," Walheim joked. Mission specialist Ellen Ochoa, another Stanford graduate, was also part of the six-member Atlantis crew.

On the morning of his second space walk, Walheim was awakened in the typical NASA fashion with a song - in this case, the Cal fight song, played by UC Berkeley's band. They also played "All Right Now," performed by Stanford's band. No one is saying which song was broadcast from NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston first.

Hailing from San Carlos, Calif., Walheim is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force. He received a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Berkeley in 1984 and was named a Berkeley distinguished graduate by the Reserve Officers Training Corps.

Stationed at Johnson Space Center's astronaut training facility in Houston, Texas, Walheim has logged more than 259 hours in space, including just over 14 hours of extravehicular activity, since earning his astronaut wings.

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