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WJBD - Local News - Astronaut Visits Salem

Astronaut Charles Camarda presents a plaque signed by all those on his space mission to Salem City Officials during his visit. Pictured left to right are city staff members Erica Paul, Natalie Wright, City Clerk Jane Marshall, Camarga, City Manager Bill Gruen and Melinda Camarga.

Astronaut Visits Salem

By Bruce Kropp, WJBD News

An astronaut says you may not be hearing much about the NASA space program, but work is continuing on flights into space.

Charles Camarda says commercial flights could be in our future.  "Eventually we're going to hand this off to commercial companies flying people to low-Earth orbit and NASA can focus on the far-term:  missions to near-Earth asteroids, planets, or to deep space habitats.  It's a strategic stepping stone to eventually one day go to Mars.  That's what I work on with the kids.  We're working on projects and programs that are exciting looking at how do you develop spacesuits, how do you develop habitats for astronauts to live on Mars," Camarda said.

Camarda is spending part of the holidays in Salem visiting with relatives from his wife's family. He was aboard the first flight into space following the fatal explosion of Space Shuttle Columbia. The 40 year veteran of NASA says his passion now is to get kids interested in engineering and science. Camarda says the goal is to keep the field exciting by allowing the students to solve problems faced on flights to space. 

"We're teaching the teachers in the high schools and connecting them with the experts at NASA and industry and also in places like MIT, Penn State, Georgia Tech, and these other great universities so that the kids will have this mentorship that goes from middle school all the way up to graduate school.  So they can directly see what's ahead of them and see, 'Hey, I like this.  This looks interesting.  I have to learn to do that.'  And they way education is going right now, most of these kids can learn on their own.  They can learn online," Camarda said.

Camarda says a lot of new technology was developed and tested before space flights were allowed to resume following the Columbia disaster.  "You never know whether you'll be scared or how you're going to feel that day at launch.  But we were just anticipating this for a long time.  We were training for two years for this mission alone.  So we were excited and anxious to get up in space.  Plus, we had a lot of confidence in the technology and procedures we had developed that we would be safe; or, if there was damage we would be able to detect it," Camarda said.   He said they have developed techniques to fix holes in the wings and with tiles on the outside of the space shuttle while in space.  

Camarda always wanted to be an astronaut and while he was able to join NASA following an internship in college, he had to wait 18 years to go up in space. Camarda is married to Melinda Camarda, whose parents Carl and Sharon Eilbes still live in Salem. The two were introduced by another astronaut.

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