The first orthopedic surgeon in space is flying aboard shuttle Atlantis, along with two former college football players, one of them an NFL pick, and the grandson of Amelia Earhart's personal photographer.
A brief look at the six shuttle astronauts:
Commander Charles Hobaugh could care less what he eats on Thanksgiving as long as he's in space.
Hobaugh, a colonel in the Marines, is making his third shuttle flight but his first as skipper. He used his commander's prerogative to skip the irradiated turkey and freeze-dried trimmings that NASA could have tucked away for the crew's Thanksgiving dinner.
"The season is whatever the season is," he said. "We're just always pleased to be in space. I don't care what they give us. It could be beef brisket. It could be tofu. It doesn't matter to me. We're going to enjoy ourselves no matter what we do."
His was the last voice heard by the Columbia astronauts right before they died in 2003. He was speaking to them from Mission Control as they were returning to Earth; their spaceship shattered minutes before landing.
Hobaugh said he thinks often of that fateful morning and believes he's smarter now because of it.
Hobaugh, 48, nicknamed Scorch, flew combat during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early 1990s. He became an astronaut in 1996.
He and wife Corinna, a schoolteacher, have four children, ages 16 to 22. He was born in Bar Harbor, Maine.
Pilot Barry "Butch" Wilmore is experiencing space for the first time after nearly a decade of training.
He said he's always been inquisitive about everything _ "and I still am."
"My mom said my first word was 'why.' I think she said that jokingly," he said. His schoolteacher mother had three science education shows on public television back in the 1970s.
Wilmore, 46, a Navy captain from Mount Juliet, Tenn., completed 21 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. NASA chose him as an astronaut in 2000.
He played football for Tennessee Technological University in the 1980s as an outside linebacker and two decades later was inducted into its sports hall of fame. He jokes that crewmate Leland Melvin, a one-time National Football League pick, may be bigger, but "I think I'm a little bit meaner than him."
He and wife Deanna have two daughters, ages 2 and 5.
Michael Foreman, the lead spacewalker, is considered "the wire tie king."
His crewmates call him that because of all the wires that need to be fastened to tie down equipment outside the International Space Station. He will perform the first two spacewalks.
"We're going for that wire tie centurion patch, the guy who installs 100 wire ties on the space station," he joked.
Foreman, 52, a retired Navy captain from Wadsworth, Ohio, was a naval aviator, test pilot and flight instructor before becoming an astronaut in 1998. He made his first shuttle flight last year and said he was shocked when NASA assigned him to another mission so soon.
He's wanted to fly in space ever since childhood. It's risky, he acknowledged, but "worth it because we're kind of advancing the technology and eventually we'll move off this planet."
He and wife Lorrie, who runs her own construction management business in Houston, have two sons in their 20s and a 17-year-old daughter. His daughter-in-law is an engineer at Johnson Space Center.
Dr. Robert Satcher Jr.'s specialty is bone cancer.
"Being a physician and treating cancer patients was very rewarding," he said. But space beckoned. "It was something that I always dreamed about, going into outer space."
For his first spaceflight, Satcher will perform two spacewalks outside the International Space Station and serve as the crew's medical officer. He also will file Twitter updates from orbit.
Born in Hampton, Va., Satcher, 44, has a medical degree from Harvard University and a doctorate in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was teaching at Northwestern University and an orthopedic surgeon at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago when NASA invited him into the astronaut corps in 2004.
"It's a very diverse training, not only mental but physical, and in that sense I think it's very unique and certainly as challenging as anything else I've gone through," he said.
His father, Robert Satcher Sr., is president of St. Paul's College in Lawrenceville, Va. His uncle, Dr. David Satcher, served as U.S. surgeon general from 1998 until 2002. His wife, Dr. D'Juanna White-Satcher, is a pediatrician in Houston. They have a 2-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter.
Marine Lt. Col. Randolph Bresnik, whose grandfather was Amelia Earhart's only authorized photographer, is taking up one of the pioneering aviator's scarves.
On loan from the Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots in Oklahoma City, it was supposedly Earhart's favorite scarf.
Bresnik was chosen as a shuttle pilot in 2004. With shuttle missions winding down, piloting jobs became scarce and his bosses asked him to fly in the back as the flight engineer. He's fine with that.
"If I went as a pilot, I wouldn't be doing spacewalks," he said. He will perform two.
The former fighter pilot doesn't dwell on the risks of spaceflight. He takes comfort from knowing that "nobody's shooting at me" and "there are tens of thousands of people who are professionally doing their jobs, whose sole focus is making sure that these are successful and safe missions."
Bresnik, 42, who's from Santa Monica, Calif., is married to the lead attorney for international law at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Wife Rebecca is due to give birth Friday to their second child, a daughter. Bresnik hopes to hook into the delivery room by phone, through Mission Control. Their son is 3 1/2.
Leland Melvin, the primary robot arm operator, is taking up a poem he's written titled "Exploration" that has been set to music. It's on his iPod.
He wants to draw youngsters in, by combining creativity and technology.
"I'm always excited about making the connection between science, math and the arts," he said.
He's also taking up a football and a needle to pump it up, but is mum on the details.
Melvin, 45, who's from Lynchburg, Va., was a 6-foot, 205-pound wide receiver at the University of Richmond and ended up being picked by the Detroit Lions in the 11th round of the 1986 NFL draft. He never made a final NFL roster because of hamstring injuries and instead focused on science and engineering.
He began working in fiber optic sensors at NASA's Langley Research Center in 1989. He was selected as an astronaut in 1998. This is his second spaceflight.
"We are the very lucky ones or blessed ones to have the opportunity" to fly in space, he said. "And it's our mission, really, to try to convey that in whatever the best way possible is, for people to understand just how magnificent and how beautiful it is."
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