Veteran astronaut and retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Rex Walheim is leaving NASA on July 27 after almost 36 years of government service, 36 days in space and 36 hours walking in space. Since 2017, he has been deputy director of NASA Johnson Space Center’s Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate.
“Rex has been a great leader both as an astronaut and as a leader in Johnson Space Center’s flight operations and safety organizations,” Johnson Space Center Direct Mark Geyer said. “Rex is the kind of person that has great technical background but also shows that he cares about the workforce. This made Rex particularly effective in jobs that he held at Johnson. We wish him all the best.”
As an Air Force officer, Walheim arrived at Johnson Space Center in 1986 to be a mechanical systems flight controller and lead operations engineer for the space shuttle landing gear, brakes, and emergency runway barrier. Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force in 1984, he was transferred and attended then taught at the Air Force Test Pilot School in 1989. He then commanded the F-16 avionics and armament flight before being selected as an astronaut in 1996, and returning to Johnson.
Walheim’s first spaceflight came in 2002 on space shuttle Atlantis as part of STS-110. He took part in two of the mission’s four spacewalks to install the International Space Station’s S0 (central) truss and became the first astronaut to use the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm. He returned to the space station in 2008, again onboard Atlantis, as lead spacewalker for the STS-122 mission. He participated in all three of the flight’s spacewalks to install the European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory and prepare it for use.
Walheim’s final flight, STS-135, also was the final mission of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program. The 2011 mission aboard Atlantis delivered the last shuttle shipment of supplies, spare parts, and logistics to the space station. Over the course of his three spaceflights, Walheim traveled more than 15 million miles.
Following STS-135, Walheim was chief of the astronaut office’s exploration branch. He served as the Orion Program’s astronaut representative as the new spacecraft was developed ahead of its first uncrewed flight test, Exploration Flight Test-1, in 2014. Walheim went on to become assistant director for operations in the Flight Operations Directorate.
Born in Redwood City, California, Walheim considers San Carlos, California, to be his hometown. He received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Houston.