A Piggyback Miracle

A Piggyback Miracle

John Kiker, “Mr. John” as our family knew him, was assigned to a nearly impossible task. As head of the Mechanisms Branch at the Johnson Space Center (JSC), he was asked to design a way to get the Space Shuttles to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida from landing sites in California or New Mexico. The initial plan was to fill the cargo bay with fuel and hang airplane engines on the wings. There were significant problems with that idea....

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Rocket Science

Rocket Science

“It ain’t rocket science” is often a term used to mean something isn’t as difficult as the building of rockets. For me, it meant the science that was done on rockets—like what I did on my Shuttle flights. Not long ago, I gave a talk to a group of research scientists who are performing ground-breaking studies in many engineering and science fields. I read summaries of their work…so complex I couldn’t understand it all. I began to think the...

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Collisions

Collisions

Our universe is vast—but that doesn’t mean things don’t run into each other.  Some say our moon was formed out of the debris from an Earth impact with a huge boulder named Theia. And later in Earth’s history, the dinosaurs and most life on our planet may have been destroyed by collision with an asteroid. On some dark nights, we can see meteors burning up as they enter our atmosphere. It’s no surprise then that our spacecraft sometimes get...

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My Best Space Moment

My Best Space Moment

How do Astronauts keep in touch with their families when they are orbiting the Earth? Communicating with loved ones became more sophisticated over time.  In the beginning, families could send up brief messages with other NASA information to the Shuttle’s antiquated printer. Later on, those few words could be sent with packets of information to our onboard computer.  Neither of those methods were private, and so they were painfully terse: “Miss...

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Challenger: Still There…

Challenger: Still There…

A little over three decades ago, January 28, 1986 began one of the worst times of my life. I watched as seven friends and the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded into a ball of fire moments after take-off. Soon, all the Astronauts were assigned to assist in the search, recovery, and rebuilding of the United States space program. I was sent to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to help with the identification of the fragments of the accident. In...

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The Penguin Patch

The Penguin Patch

    Soldiers have worn patches, called insignias, on their uniforms from as far back as World War I.  I got to learn all about the importance of patches at NASA.  Following the lead of military men of yore, there were hundreds of patches commemorating human space flight.  Many of the things that appear on patches have special meaning.   When I came to NASA at the beginning of the Space Shuttle era, I learned that each crew had to...

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