Doug met today’s guest blogger during his trip to the Space Coast for “GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest.” We featured her in Part 7 of our ongoing series about GRAIL (see that HERE) because we were captivated by her knowledge of the space shuttle program and her commitment, from childhood, to space exploration. But we also wanted Kim to talk about her life and career in her own words, an example of the ways we heard many space shuttle workers talk about their jobs even as they faced layoffs.
THE DREAMS THAT YOU DARE TO DREAM
Growing up as a child in Philadelphia, there was little talk of the space program. But for a young girl who saw the first launch of the Space Shuttle on the local news on April 12, 1981, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Working on the space shuttle became my goal. Over the next fifteen years, everything I did was geared toward becoming an engineer and working at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). From the time I was eight years old, I knew that working on the shuttle would require a strong math and science background. With the encouragement of my teachers throughout grade school and high school, as well as putting my own mind to it, I obtained the confidence to know that I would one day succeed in my childhood goal of working on the space shuttle.
After graduating high school, I moved to Florida to attend Florida Institute of Technology, a school founded in 1958 for the engineers at KSC to obtain their master’s degrees. I knew this was the school for me. I received my B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1995 and began my career at KSC the following year as an Avionics/Orbiter Electrical Engineer.
During my time at KSC, I became a Fuel Cell Engineer, working on the shuttle fuel cell and potable/waste water systems. In 2004, I transitioned to Launch Site Integration Engineer for Endeavour, working as a liaison between Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers to disseminate technical issues between the Systems Specialists and NASA Management. During my fifteen-year career at KSC, I was living my dream.
Today, we live in a world full of smart phones, social media, and video games. Flying humans into space became seemingly routine to the general public. It is anything but routine, as we saw with Challenger and Columbia. The engineers, scientists, and technicians who work on the shuttles have always been dedicated to flying men and women into space safely. It takes dedication and love of the job to work on the shuttles, making the shuttle workers a community, even akin to a family.
Working on the shuttle had its ups and downs, as with anything in life. When I was thirteen and Challenger exploded, I told my mom that if it was ever up to me, that would never, ever happen again. When I was twenty-three, I started my career working on the shuttle ,and, in 2003, an accident did happen again: we lost Columbia. For three-and-a-half weeks in Corsicana, I trudged through the fields, swamps, and forests of Eastern Texas searching for pieces of my beloved Columbia. To see the thousands of people from around the country who helped us bring our family (the astronauts who perished) and our baby (Columbia) home was an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Of course, there were the triumphs too. During my career, there were 54 successful launches of the space shuttle, successes in which I had a part (no matter how small or large). I met the most wonderful people in the world, who remain my family. I was able to travel to California (to support landings) and to Texas (to support missions) and so much more. As the Orbiter Element Vehicle Engineer, I was given the honor of presenting at final Flight Readiness Review for Endeavour (an honor that was given previously only to the Vehicle Manager).
With the shuttle program complete, the United States has no way to fly human into space other than to rely on our Russian partners. That being said, commercial corporations have been tasked to create the next-generation launch system. Today’s younger generation will design, build, test, and fly these new space transportation vehicles. They are the ones who now look up to the sky and dream of working on the future of spaceflight in this country, just as I did when I was a child.
My career with the United States Space Shuttle Program has been a dream come true and even more. I am honored every day to say that I was part of the greatest program in the world and to have worked with the greatest people in the world. I look forward to working with whatever the United States has planned for us to get our men and women flying again in space.