Dan Tani: An Astronaut Who INSPIREs
By Katherine Schauer
May 5, 2022
In 2001, NASA astronaut Dan Tani reached the International Space Station, becoming one of the few chosen to walk among the stars. In 2007, he did it again. Today, he serves as chief of the Exploration and Space Communications (ESC) projects division’s INtegrated Strategic Products, Information, and Resources Enterprise (INSPIRE) office, challenging the next generation of explorers to reach for the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
Tani’s journey to the astronaut corps began with an education. In 1984 he received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Later, he would go on to receive a master’s degree from MIT in the same field while he worked in the commercial aerospace industry.
His career with NASA began in 1996, when he was selected among thousands of candidates to undergo intense astronaut training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. As a NASA astronaut Tani flew on three shuttle missions: STS-108, STS-120, and STS-122. He also lived on the space station for 120 days as a part of the Expedition-16 crew, serving as flight engineer and logging over 34 hours during six spacewalks between 2001 and 2008. During these spacewalks Tani performed critical space station assembly tasks, repairing and replacing power and other system components.
“I feel so privileged to have spent months in space – providing me a rarely-witnessed perspective on our home planet,” said Tani.
Space isn’t the only extreme environment Tani has called home. In 2002, Tani served as an aquanaut on the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) project. He and his crew members lived and worked under the Atlantic Ocean in the Aquarius underwater laboratory. This laboratory and its surroundings provide an analog environment for researching humans in hostile places and allow the aquanauts to experience similar challenges that they would on the space station or other planets.
In 2012 Tani left NASA, spending time in private industry and the non-profit sector before moving his family to Japan for two years, wanting to expose his children to different cultures and areas of the world. There, he taught science, engineering, and design to high school students at an American school.
“I wanted my children to know that people all around the world are both different and the same – and that no one is any better than anyone else," said Tani. "We’re all in it together.”
This past year, Tani rejoined NASA as a member of the communications and navigation community at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. In his short time with ESC, he’s made profound contributions as the founding chief of INSPIRE. His office is responsible for creating engaging outreach products and educational activities. Additionally, he invigorates ESC’s workforce pipeline, making ESC a sought-after place to work at NASA.
While Tani has left the astronaut corps, he still dons his iconic blue flight suit, volunteering for school visits, conferences, and important events. There, he uses his experiences in space to inspire people around the country and across the globe to get involved in NASA’s mission.