The lure of exploration, particularly of the “final frontier,” continues to fuel the imagination of humankind. And many advances in science and technology have resulted from space exploration as well. Wilson Center Board of Trustees member Susan Helms has logged 5,064 hours in space, including a world record spacewalk of nearly 9 hours. She shares reflections of her time off planet and her thoughts on the future of space travel and exploration with host John Milewski in this special edition of Wilson Center NOW.


Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, USAF (Ret.), is a former NASA astronaut and a current member of the Wilson Center’s Board of Trustees. She was a crew member on 5 shuttle missions and also served about the International Space Station. Her time on the space station included a record setting 8 hours and 56 minutes spacewalk. Helms graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1980. She received her commission and was assigned to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, as an F-16 Weapons Separation Engineer with the Air Force Armament Laboratory. In 1982, she became the lead engineer for F-15 weapons separation. In 1984, she was selected to attend graduate school. She received her degree from Stanford University in 1985 and was assigned as an assistant professor of aeronautics at the U.S. Air Force Academy. In 1987, she attended the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California. After completing one year of training as a Flight Test Engineer, Helms was assigned as a U.S. Air Force Exchange Officer to the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment, Canadian Forces Base, Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada, where she worked as a Flight Test Engineer and project officer on the CF-18 aircraft. She was managing the development of a CF-18 Flight Control System Simulation for the Canadian Forces when selected for the astronaut program. As a Flight Test Engineer, Helms flew in 30 different types of U.S. and Canadian military aircraft.


After a 12-year NASA career that included 211 days in space, Helms returned to the U.S. Air Force in July 2002 to take a position at Headquarters U.S. Air Force Space Command. In June of 2006, she was appointed a Brigadier General and became Commander of the 45th Space Wing and Director, Eastern Range, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. As the 45th Space Wing Commander, she was responsible for the processing and launch of U.S. Government and commercial satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. From November 2006 to January 2011 she served as the Director of Plans and Policy for the United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, where she earned the rank of Major General. In 2011, she was appointed to the rank of Lieutenant General and became Commander, 14th Air Force (Air Forces Strategic), Air Force Space Command and Commander, Joint Functional Component Command for Space (JFCC SPACE), USSTRATCOM, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. As the Commander of 14th Air Force, General Helms leads more than 20,500 personnel, who are responsible for providing missile warning, space superiority, space situational awareness, satellite operations, space launch and range operations. As Commander, JFCC SPACE, she directs all assigned and attached USSTRACOM forces in providing tailored, responsive, local and global space effects in support of national, USSTRATCOM and combatant commander objectives.


John Milewski is the executive producer and managing editor of Wilson Center NOW and also serves as director of Wilson Center ON DEMAND digital programming. Previously he served as host and producer of Dialogue at the Wilson Center and Close Up on C-SPAN. He also teaches a course on politics and media for Penn State’s Washington Program.