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Wed, Jul 13, 2005

DOD Well Represented On Shuttle Crew

All Systems Go

As the clock counts down toward the scheduled 1551 EDT liftoff, crews are making final preparations, and NASA officials report that all details appear to be "go." The Defense Department will be well represented when Discovery launches into space July 13th.

Three of the seven crewmembers are from the military, including the commander, retired Air Force Col. Eileen Collins. Collins became the first women pilot of the Space Shuttle on the first flight of the joint Russian-American shuttle-Mir program in 1995, and later, the first woman to command a shuttle mission, in 1999, according to NASA officials.

She's logged more than 6,280 hours in 30 different types of aircraft, with more than 537 hours in space. This will be her fourth trip into space.

Air Force Col. James Kelly, who will serve as Discovery's pilot, was a member of the March 2001 resupply mission to the International Space Station. He has logged more than 3,000 hours in more than 35 different aircraft.

Navy Capt. Wendy Lawrence, mission specialist and logistics manager, also has three previous spaceflights under her belt. A naval aviator since 1982, Lawrence has flown more than 1,500 hours in six different types of helicopters and made more than 800 shipboard landings.

Collins is confident in the abilities of her crewmembers. They have been training for this mission for the past two years. "I have a fantastic crew," she said during a preflight interview with NASA. "The seven shuttle crewmembers have been so professional in the work that we have done up to this point."

As members of the first shuttle mission since Columbia was destroyed over Texas in February 2003, the three say they and their families recognize the risks involved.

The crew's loss was "absolutely overwhelming," Lawrence said. "It's hard enough to lose one friend, and as a naval aviator, I've lost squadron mates and friends before. But to lose seven of them all at once is just absolutely devastating."

Yet as the daughter and granddaughter of military aviators, Lawrence said she and her family understand the risks.

"My mother's father flew in World War II. He was shot down over the Philippines and, fortunately, was rescued," she said during a preflight interview with NASA. "My father was shot down over Vietnam and didn't return until six years later. So my family understands the risks."

"Coming from my background as a fighter pilot, I've lost friends in the flying world, and so you realize that the next flight of anything could be the last flight you're on," agreed Kelly. He acknowledged that flying in space is riskier than travel in other aircraft, but said it's a risk he's willing to take, and that he hopes he's prepared his family for it as well.

What drives, him, Kelly said, is "holding on to that dream" - a dream he said he's had since he was 5 years old and became enamored with the Apollo moon missions.

It's the same dream Collins said she had as a child growing up in Elmira, NY, dubbed "the soaring capital of America" for its rich history in flight and collection of period planes. And the dream Lawrence shared as a 10-year-old when she watched images of the first man walking on the moon on her family's black-and-white TV set.

"I understand very well the significance of this mission," Lawrence said. "It's very important for us to get back to space."

Along with moving the space program forward, Lawrence called the upcoming mission a way to honor the memories of the Columbia crew and their commitment to space exploration. By building on that commitment, the astronauts say they believe they're becoming a part of something bigger than themselves.

"If you look through history, you see that the explorers and the countries that were doing the exploring, were the ones that were making the world a better place to live in," said Kelly. "That's still true."

FMI: www.nasa.gov/returntoflight

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