KU professor remembers Discovery's, and his, first flight - KCTV5

KU professor remembers Discovery's, and his, first flight

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It was 30 years ago today that the Discovery space shuttle launched for the first of its missions. University of Kansas physics and astronomy professor Steve Hawley was on that flight, one he will never forget.

"What was most memorable was that it was my first ever launch, first ever trip to space. That only happens once," Hawley told KCTV5 News from his Lawrence home.

Hawley said he did months of basic training, then another 12 to 18 months of specific "mission" training in advance of the launch.

There were several goals for that first mission, according to Hawley, including making sure Discovery performed as it was expected to.

"Also, one of the main missions back then was to launch satellites. We had three satellites with us. That's likely a record that still stands today," Hawley remembered. "Another aspect was to test the dynamics of a large solar array. The design we tested on the first flight is currently on the Space Station. It's really gratifying to think that we tested something that's the standard today."

Discovery flew 39 missions before being retired in 2011. Hawley flew five of those missions, the first in 1984, the last in 1999. In all, he spent 30 years working for NASA, an amazing career by any standards.

"I think, in general, what most impressed me were the things that we were able to accomplish, including building a Space Station and launching the Hubble Space Telescope. To have been part of the NASA team that was able to pull this stuff off was probably the memory that has stayed with me.," Hawley said. "I never took it for granted. I always felt extremely privileged to have been given the opportunity."

Hawley said there are only seven Americans who have flown more missions than him. He is a member of a very exclusive club, but he said he never thought about that during his time at NASA, only after.

"Since I left the program, I reflect upon what a small group we were. But, while I was there, I was just focused on the job. Plus, I was surrounded by a group of people doing the same things as me. The guys who flew Mercury, Gemini and Apollo were my heroes growing up in Salina. Getting the chance to do some of the things they did is really mind-boggling if you stop to think about," Hawley reflected.

Hawley said it's not hard to believe that it's been 30 years since his, and Discovery's, first flight. He said he's pretty much resigned to the fact that that much time has passed. But, that first flight aboard Discovery was, and will always remain, special.

"I also always marveled at the capability of the shuttle. It was really a wonderful piece of technology," Hawley said.

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