Barry Wilmore

UT Space Institute, ’94

Barry Wilmore

Five hours had already passed inside his space suit as Barry Wilmore prepared to walk outside the International Space Station. Now, the hatch would open and his work with a fellow astronaut could begin. While tethered by an 85-foot steel cable, they worked to install new docking adapters.

Wilmore took four such walks during his six-month stay on the station. He was the first American to pilot a space shuttle and subsequently walk in space.

“Not one hour would go by that I wouldn’t think, ‘I can’t believe we do this; we put humans in a one-man space capsule and send them out into the vacuum of space to work—and we do it safely,’” he says.

In his first space mission, Wilmore piloted the Atlantis shuttle in 2009. On a Russian Soyuz rocket in 2014, he returned to the station, where he spent 167 days and conducted over 25 hours in space walks.

Growing up in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, he was unsure what to study at Tennessee Tech University. Mentors pointed him to engineering. After graduating in 1985, Wilmore joined the U.S. Navy, becoming a pilot who flew missions in Operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Southern Watch. He earned a master’s from the UT Space Institute in 1994 and graduated from the United States Naval Test Pilot School in 1992.

“I couldn’t fly higher or faster than the space shuttle, so I said, ‘Let’s try that,’ ” Wilmore says about applying to NASA.

Even with his accomplishments, there’s something of which he is more proud. “People ask me what I do, and I tell them I’m a husband and a father,” he says. “The only true and most valuable legacy I can leave is with my daughters.”

Part of the Tennessee Alumnus100 Distinguished Alumni feature.