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Indy 500: Astronauts Make Annual Pilgrimage to "500"

23 May 1998

INDIANAPOLIS, May 23, 1998 - Rookie driver Jimmy Kite was flying high when he qualified for Sunday's Indianapolis 500, but his emotional state still was far below the altitude reached by some special guests this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Eight NASA astronauts, who in recent weeks completed missions in space, are visiting. They are the latest group of space stars to make a pilgrimage to the world's most famous automobile race.

Heading the list is David Wolf, an Indianapolis native who spent 4 months aboard the Russian space station Mir. Wolf will be attending his 30th consecutive 500 and once owned the Chevrolet Camaro Pace Car that led the field to the green flag for start of the 1969 race.

The other seven astronauts all participated in the 16-day shuttle flight of the Columbia STS-90 that returned to Earth on May 3. Their objective in the Neurolab project was to study the effects of microgravity on the nervous system.

The crew commander was Richard A. Searfoss. Other team members were: Scott D. Altman, pilot; Richard M. Linnehan, mission specialist; Dafydd (Dave) Rhys Williams, mission specialist; Kathryn P. Hire, mission specialist; Dr. Jay C. Buckey, payload specialist, and Dr. James A. Pawelczyk, payload specialist.

The astronauts will participate in today's public driver's meeting, and they will be introduced from the pits before the start of Sunday's race.

Wolf, a graduate of North Central High School on the city's north side, will be grand marshal of the annual 500 Festival Parade through the streets of downtown at midday today. He also will ride in one of the Chevrolet Corvette Pace Cars that will lead the field of 33 cars racing Sunday.

Wolf, 41, would be aboard Mir this weekend if his flight had not been moved forward to last fall. He had planned to ask for an orbit adjustment to pass over Indianapolis on Race Day and view a racecar through a telescope so he could keep his race string intact.

Searfoss, 41, is a native of Mount Clemens, Mich. He has logged 4,200 hours in 56 different type of aircraft and became an astronaut in 1990. His first space flight was as pilot of Columbia in 1993. He flew Atlantis in 1996.

Altman, a commander in the U.S. Navy, was born in Lincoln, Ill., on Aug. 15, 1959, and is a University of Illinois graduate. The former F-14 test pilot joined the astronaut program in December 1994, and the Neurolab flight was his first in space.

Linnehan, a native of Lowell, Mass., earned a doctor of veterinary medicine from Ohio State in 1985. He worked in private practice and later worked at the Baltimore Zoo and Johns Hopkins University. He then was commissioned as a captain in the U.S. Navy and selected by NASA in March 1992. He made his space flight debut in 1996.

Williams is a 44-year-old native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who studied medicine at McGill University in Montreal, at the University of Ottawa, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the University of Toronto. He was chosen in 1995 to join the 1995 international class of NASA specialists candidates. Columbia 90 was his first space flight.

Hire, 38, earned her Naval Flight Officer wings in 1982 and specialized in oceanographic research missions. Five years ago this month, she became the first female in the U.S. assigned to a combat air crew. She joined NASA in 1994 and worked as a mission control spacecraft communicator since 1996. The Neurolab flight was her first in space.

Buckey, a medical doctor, earned a NASA Space Biology Fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center where he received an award for work on Spacelab Life Sciences. Buckey, a 41-year-old New York City native, has been published extensively on space physiology, cardiovascular regulation and echocardiograph techniques. He took a leave from Dartmouth Medical School to participate in the latest space flight.

Pawelczyk, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., is co-editor of "Blood Loss and Shock" and has done considerable investigation into cardiovascular regulation and cardiovascular physiology. In 1984, he was research scientist at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials. He received a NASA Young Investigator Award in 1994 and was co-investigator on the Neurolab mission, and two Shuttle-Mir flights.

Event, broadcast schedule: The 82nd Indianapolis 500 starts at 11 a.m. May 24. The race will be broadcast live on ABC and the IMS Radio Network at noon (EDT) May 24. The ABC and the IMS Radio Network prerace shows start at 11 a.m. (EDT) May 24.

Tickets: Reserved Race Day tickets are sold out for the 82nd Indianapolis 500, but general admission tickets are available at the gate.