Could learning to drive and parallel park in Queens be good practice for docking a Space Shuttle at the International Space Station? Maybe, but it really takes a lot of education and The Right Stuff — both of which Ozone Park native Charles Camarda has in spades.
Camarda was a crew member aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on the historic Return to Space Flight of July 26 to Aug. 9, 2005, the first shuttle mission since the tragic loss of the Columbia and its crew on Feb. 1, 2003. The flight was designed not only as a rendezvous with the ISS but as a test for new protocols meant to avoid any repeat of the Columbia disaster, which was caused by a piece of insulation that broke off during launch, damaging part of the shuttle’s hull and causing it to burn up on re-entry.
A piece of insulation also broke off Discovery when it took off but did not damage the ship.
Before the mission, Camarda told NASA writer Amiko Nevills that he fully recognized the danger of spaceflight.
“I’ve always been aware of the risks,” he said. “I think every one of us understands that spaceflight is risky. It’s important that we take those risks for the future of space and for the future of the development of technology to help us on Earth.”
Camarda, a research scientist with seven patents to his name, was a mission specialist on the flight, and sent the computer commands that locked the shuttle to the space station once the craft was in place.
Born in 1952, Camarda had wanted to fly into space ever since he was a boy awed by America’s original seven astronauts. “It was a time when spaceflight was so intriguing,” he said. “It was natural for me to want to be an astronaut, to dream of being an astronaut.”
It takes a lot of education to get there. Camarda graduated from Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School and Archbishop Molloy High School here in Queens. He earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn, a master’s in engineering science from George Washington University and a doctorate in aerospace engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
His work at NASA focused on thermal protection systems and materials for the leading edge of the Space Shuttle. He was selected as a candidate for spaceflight in 1996.
Nine years later he and six other crew members spent two weeks in space on the mission dubbed STS-114. It was hailed as a success.
“STS-114 included breathtaking in-orbit maneuvers, tests of new equipment and procedures, and a first-of-its-kind spacewalking repair,” NASA said. “The flight provided unprecedented information on the condition of an orbiter in space.”
Camarda, who is married with four children, later became the senior advisor for innovation in the Office of the Chief Engineer at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.