After obtaining a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Adelaide, followed by several years working in the US aerospace industry, Dr Thomas joined the NASA Astronaut Corps in 1992. He flew his first flight into space on a ten-day science mission aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in 1996. This was followed in 1997 with a year undertaking cosmonaut training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Russia, leading to a 20-week mission on board the Mir space station in 1998. His third flight came in 2001, the first crew rotation mission to the International Space Station, and included a six-hour space walk assembling components on the outside of the space station. Dr Thomas flew his fourth space flight, also to the space station, on shuttle Discovery in 2005. As a professional astronaut Dr Thomas logged more than 177 days in space.
“The pioneering flight of Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith and their two mechanics was as significant in its day as the moon landing just 50 years later. What a staggering development, to go from a fabric-covered biplane to the moon landing in less than a human lifespan. And yet few realize that such an iconic piece of humanity’s early efforts in aviation can be found right here at Adelaide Airport. It was a great honour for me to carry the pilot ‘wings’, worn by Ross and Keith Smith, into space on the shuttle Endeavour in 1996, and it is an honour to be involved in this Centenary of Epic Flight in South Australia in 2019.”