Camarda Reaches For Stars

A Queens astronaut who has dreamed of going into space his whole life is part of the crew of the next Space Shuttle Discovery mission, which was delayed last week but is expected to launch soon, NASA officials said.
South Ozone Park native Charlie Camarda, a 1970 graduate of Archbishop Molloy High School in Briarwood, will be one of two rookies aboard Discovery when it eventually lifts off.
Recruited as a mission specialist, this flight will be a long time coming for the 53-year-old who was turned down in 1978 when he first applied to the astronaut corps.
After graduating high school, Camarda attended Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn, receiving a bachelor’s of science degree in engineering in 1974. From there he would join NASA’s Langley, Virginia Research Center, working in the Thermal Structures Branch. In 1980, Camarda would earn his master’s in engineering from George Washington University and doctorate in aerospace engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1990.
Growing up, Camarda’s childhood heroes were the Mercury 7 astronauts of the feverish space race era, which coincided with an uncle who worked for the Grumman Aerospace Corp., who provided all the motivation he needed for his dream job.
“I had an uncle that was working for Grumman Aerospace Corp. out in Bethpage,” Camarda said in a recent interview. “As a child, we made rockets together, we made fireworks together, and he took me to see the lunar module. I’ll never forget that one summer I spent with my uncle out in Long Island.”
The launch of Discovery was originally scheduled at Kennedy Space Center outside Orlando, Florida on July 13.
“NASA is continuing extensive testing and troubleshooting into a problem with a low-fuel sensor in the Shuttle Discovery’s External Tank,” an official statement from the space program said. “Program managers have not set a new launch date, but say if the problem is fixed, an attempt could be made as early as four days later.”
Camarda will serve as MS-5 on the “Return To Flight” mission, during which the crew will test and evaluate new procedures for flight safety and Shuttle inspection and repair techniques. They will also dock with the International Space Station to refresh its supplies.
Camarda is married with four children and stepchildren and lives in the Houston area. He admits to being a workaholic but says he enjoys sports and working out.
In a pre-flight interview he said his family does not fear for his safety despite the Columbia tragedy. His youngest stepson Alex “believes the next space flight is going to be a happy event.”
As for himself, Camarda said he could not be happier to be finally achieving his boyhood dream.
David Cargin is a freelance writer.