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Borough president’s daughter makes her mark in space

By Greater Astoria Historical Society

In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, the Times–Ledger newspaper presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history

Born on April 27, 1953 in Fayetteville, N.C. as Ellen Louise Shulman, medical doctor and retired NASA astronaut Ellen Baker was raised in Queens. She became an astronaut in 1985 and participated in three space shuttle missions. Her mother, Claire Shulman, was the borough president of Queens from 1986 to 2002, and her brother Lawrence is a renowned oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Dr. Baker and her husband, Kenneth, have two daughters.

Following graduation from Bayside High School in 1970, the future astronaut completed her undergraduate studies at SUNY-Buffalo in 1974 and earned her medical degree from Cornell University four years later. Dr. Baker’s career took off after she joined NASA in 1981, following her medical residency in San Antonio.

The aspiring doctor from Queens began her service with the space agency as a physician at the Johnson Space Center before her official selection as an astronaut in 1984. Following completion of training in 1985, the still-earthbound astronaut worked on a variety of programs at NASA, including space station development. While in service, she was Lead Astronaut for Medical Issues at the Johnson Space Center.

The Bayside High graduate’s first space flight was STS-34 Atlantis in October 1989. Orbiting the Earth 79 times and logging 1.8 million miles of flight, Dr. Baker and her crewmates deployed the Galileo probe to explore Jupiter and conducted medical and scientific experiments, including mapping the ozone gases in the atmosphere. On her first mission, the proud New Yorker flew into space with the Queens flag, which was later put on display at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.

Baker’s second sojourn into space was her most lengthy. On STS-50 in 1992, she spent 331 hours on the space shuttle Columbia and orbited Earth 221 times. STS-71 in 1995 was her final NASA mission.

Traveling some 4.1 million miles in orbit, Dr. Baker and her fellow astronauts on the Atlantis achieved the first space shuttle docking with the Russian space station Mir and conducted many biological experiments. Her third trip was the 100th human space launch from the Cape.

In her three missions, Ellen Baker logged a total of 686 hours (nearly a month in space over three missions), 453 earth orbits and over 11 million miles of space shuttle travel and exploration.

After her final return from space, the accomplished doctor and space explorer served as chief of education and medicine for NASA’s Astronaut Office. Dr. Baker retired from NASA in 2011 to pursue other career interests.

Looking back on her 30 years of service to the nation and the pursuit of scientific inquiry, on her retirement the space agency commented that “Ellen’s career has contributed significantly in many areas of NASA’s medical, science and countermeasure development. Her creative ideas and dedication to NASA will be sorely missed.”

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit their website at www.astorialic.org.

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