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Charles Armstrong—he goes by Charlie—has worked at NASA in Houston for 33 years. The Kickapoo High School graduate will be inducted tomorrow into the Springfield Public Schools Hall of Fame.
Armstrong, who has long been interested in astronomy, had a lofty goal as a child…
"I wanted to be the third great astronomer from Southwest Missouri. The first one was Edwin Hubble and the second was Harlow Shapley. No one's heard of Harlow Shapley but astronomers."
During high school at Kickapoo, he spent a lot of time hanging out in the physics department at what was then SMSU and took some college classes. He was president of the science and math clubs at Kickapoo his senior year.
He graduated in 1979 from SMS with degrees in physics and math and a minor in astronomy. A professor suggested he get a job in the field during the summer between undergraduate and graduate school…
"I basically thought to myself, 'gee, I wonder if NASA's got any kind of summer jobs,' kind of thing. So, I basically wrote them, they sent me an application, Isent it back in, I got a phone call, and all of a sudden I had a summer job--the summer of '79--down here in Houston."
He says he made the mistake of not staying at NASA and attended grad school at the University of Colorado for a year. But he changed his mind and went back to work for NASA.
When he started his career there, he worked in EVA--extra vehicular activity—or spacewalks…
"What we did, basically, is created the entire spacewalk capability that we've used since the beginning of shuttle to build space station. So, I was on the ground floor of all of that--conducted the first EVA from the control center--STS6, and then we followed that with the first flight of the manned maneurvering unit, which is that jet pack. It was an iconic photo of Bruce McCandless out there in the blackness over the Earth flying away from the shuttle."
He also helped with the first repair of a satellite on orbit and helped in the rescue of satellites.
After more than decade in EVA, he began work with the assured crew return vehicle program—a lifeboat for the original space station NASA was planning—Space Station Freedom…
"About that time was the time that the wall fell in Russia, well it became Russia out of the Soviet Union, and they kind of had a fire sale on space hardware. And the idea was, 'gee, I wonder if we bought some Soyuzes from the Russians--they would get hard currency, we would get a lifeboat, and we wouldn't actually have to go build our own until we were ready to go build one.' So, I got to work on that project for awhile and got to go to Moscow many times and that was before it was all fashionable and now they're big partners with us on the International Space Station, but back then we were kind of pioneering all of that."
After the Space Station Freedom project was cancelled, Armstrong began another project…
"I started working on the federal Mir program, which was the idea that we would fly some cosmonauts on the space shuttle, and the shuttle would dock with the Space Station Mir, which is the Russian space station--and we would have one of our astronauts live onboard the Mir, and we did that for several missions, and I was what was called a Russian interface operator at the time, which was a communications link, basically, between the Moscow control center and the Houston control center."
After the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, Armstrong served as a member of the support team for the Return to Flight Task Group. When that job was done, he became one of the original members of the Orion Team…
"Which is our next vehicle that we're flying, the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, which is to take the place of the shuttle in that it will be our transportation method to get to space and back, the government owned and operate version. And, in particular, the mission of the Orion is to go beyond low Earth orbit, like where the space station is, and push on to places like the moon, astroids, ultimately to Mars--places like that."
Armstrong serves as a liason between universities and NASA—MSU is involved in that program. Groups from MSU have travelled to NASA and vice versa.
He’ll be inducted into the SPS Hall of Fame tomorrow (10/18) along with the late Dr. Stewart Fulbright and Betty Cole Dukert.
For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.