Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Science and flying inspired Eric Boe to aim high

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Space shuttle astronaut Eric A. Boe grew up in the Peach State involved in sports and flying planes while having a strong focus on science and education.

Boe will make his second trip into space as pilot of the space shuttle Discovery tomorrow on a voyage to resupply the International Space Station.

Born in Miami, Florida, his parents moved soon after to a home in east Atlanta, a city which became a launching pad for his future goals in life.

"I grew up in Atlanta, and it had a big influence on me," the 46 year-old Air Force Colonel said. "It kind of put in motion the kind of goals and objectives, and obviously the schooling was a real important part of having the opportunity of working here at NASA."

The seeds of science and flying were planted in his life's ambitions as the Apollo astronauts explored the moon in 1969.

"I remember specifically when the moon landings happened," Boe recounted. "I was 5 years old and I remember my parents calling me into the room and telling me 'Hey, watch this. This is really important stuff.'"

Sports was a strong foundation while attending Henderson high school in metro Atlanta in the early 1980's.

"I enjoyed soccer. I participated in cross country and I also was on the wrestling team," Boe said proudly of his high school career.

But one person helped give the young lad the gift of science.

"I had a teacher at Fernbank Science Center which is in my local community, Debbie Huffman," Boe discussed. "She works encouraging youth in aviation and other scientific fields so she really helped me out along the way."

Mrs. Huffman continues her long career at Fernbank today.

Boe also served as a cadet in Georgia's Civil Air Patrol, which promotes aerospace education and emergency management including search and rescue. The north Atlanta resident received the Patrol's highest honor, the General Carl A. Spaatz Award.

At 16, he flew solo for the first time as a part of the CAP. "That was my first real opportunity to fly an airplane by myself," Boe remembers. "CAP gave me that opportunity." He continues to serve and support the Florida branch of the Civil Air Patrol.

Upon graduating from high school in 1983, Boe left Atlanta for the United States Air Force Academy, and four years later received a Bachelor of Science in Astronautical Engineering.

The Air Force called upon Boe and his 60th Fighter Squadron based out of Eglin, AFB in Florida, for duties in Kuwait and Iraq during Operation .

A flight commander for the F-15C, Boe and his crew would fly fifty-five combat missions across southern Iraq in 1994. A year later, he returned home to Atlanta.

Ten years after completing his first degree, Col. Boe received his Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech, located just twelve minutes from his boyhood home.

That year also included a trip out to Edwards, AFB in California and the Air Force's Test Pilot's school. While living at Eglin, Boe was selected as a pilot astronaut during July 2000, while at the same time his wife Kristen and Eric were expecting a son.

During the years of astronaut training and assisting with future spacecraft design projects at the Johnson Space Center near Houston, Boe left for a year in Star City, Russia to serve as NASA's director of operations at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.

Then while on a working trip at the Marshall Space Flight Center in 2007, Boe received the call he had long waited to hear.

Boe remembers the day so clear, "The chief of our office, Steve Lindsey, called me up on my cell phone and I was talking to him and he goes, “Hey, how would you like to fly on STS-126?” It was a great day."

During the second half of November 2008, Col. Boe made the trip of a lifetime when he spent nearly sixteen days in space, including over a week spent docked at the space station.

"I did get the chance to see the Atlanta area in space, and one of the things that was pretty cool was that they were having a Georgia Tech game," Boe said of his flight aboard Endeavour. "The shuttle actually flew over the top of Atlanta, and we were looking down while they were looking up and they actually talked about it at the football game."

Boe and his crew made the November 20 night time pass over northern Georgia as Tech played ACC rival Miami in a game shown on ESPN. And, yes, Georgia Tech later won 41-23 that night.

On Thursday, Lindsey will command Boe and four mission specialist astronauts on a nearly two week mission aboard Discovery.

Boe will become the last person to serve as pilot aboard the storied spacecraft on this, the thirty-ninth and final flight of Discovery. As the mission winds down, Boe's focus will turn toward space station undocking.

Boe will get the chance to 'fly' Discovery in a 360-degree revolution around earth's orbiting outpost before firing twin engines to separate and begin the crew's return trip home.

(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and science. Follow his updates on social media via @Military_Flight.)

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