James M. Kelly

Childhood Dreams Became Reality

Inducted in 2012

As a child, Col. James M. Kelly often cracked his bedroom window at night, listening to the roar of aircraft engines. The low-flying planes heard just beyond the nearby cornfields where he grew up in Burlington, Iowa, inspired Kelly at an early age. He dreamt of going somewhere new, doing something new. Whether he was an instructor pilot, evaluator pilot, mission commander or an astronaut, Kelly’s dreams became a reality. He has a proven track record, logging more than 3,800 hours in more than 35 different aircraft.

Kelly received a bachelor’s degree in astronautical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1986. In 1994, Kelly graduated from Air Force Test Pilot
School at Edwards Air Force Base. He continued his education to receive a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from The University of Alabama in 1996.

In 1987, Kelly was designated an Air Force pilot reporting to Luke Air Force Base to begin initial F-15 Eagle training. After completing training, he was assigned to the 67th Fighter Squadron at Kadena Air Base in Japan. During his tour in Japan, he was designated an instructor pilot, evaluator pilot and mission commander. In 1992, Kelly was reassigned to Otis Air National Guard Base, where he continued flying the F-15 as an instructor and mission commander.

Later, Kelly was selected for Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base. After graduation, he was assigned to the Air Force Flight Test Center detachment at Nellis Air Force Base, where he was a project test pilot and assistant operations officer. During his time at Nellis, Kelly was selected for the astronaut program. More than 2,400 people applied for NASA’s 1996 astronaut class, and he was one of 35 members and one of 10 pilots selected.

In 2001, Kelly successfully piloted the eighth shuttle mission to visit the International Space Station aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, making him The University of Alabama’s first astronaut. The mission’s accomplishments included the delivery of the Expedition-2 crew and the contents of the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, the completion of two successful space walks, the return to earth of the Expedition-1 crew, as well as the return of Leonardo, the reusable cargo carrier built by the Italian Space Agency.

Kelly piloted the improved Discovery on NASA’s Return to Flight Mission in 2005. During the mission, there were three space walks made aimed to test and evaluate new procedures for f light safety, shuttle inspection and repair techniques. After a two-week, 5.8 million mile journey in space, Discovery and its crew of seven astronauts safely landed at Edwards Air Force Base.

Kelly has received NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal, two Space Flight Medals, the U.S. Air Force Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, two Commendation medals, two Outstanding Unit Awards, two Combat Readiness Medals, the Liethen-Title Award for the Outstanding Graduate of the Air Force Test Pilot School and The University of Alabama Distinguished Engineering Fellow Award.

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