NASA flight director urges El Pasoans to watch space shuttle flyby, say goodbye to 'friend'

Space Shuttle to Land in El Paso

EL PASO, Texas - Endeavour is more than just a space vehicle to Ginger Kerrick.

She considers her a friend.

Kerrick, a NASA flight director, got to know Endeavour very well and see all of its systems up close as she prepared to lead Mission Control for STS-126 before it launched in mid-November 2008.

"It was great," El Pasoan Kerrick said in a Skype interview from her home in Houston. "That was my first time going to the Cape and getting to really get intimate with the orbiter. I got to see it when it was in one of the hangars and got to crawl around all up inside it. I visited it at the launch pad and it was really strange. It was like a friend. I value and I treasure that experience that I had."

Endeavour is in the process of making a cross-country flight atop a converted 747 airplane from Florida to California. It left Florida and landed at Ellington Airport in Houston before a cheering crowd Wednesday morning.

"I went outside for the flyby of JSC (Johnson Space Center)," Kerrick said Wednesday afternoon. "It actually passed by three times! I just wanted to absorb the moment."

She said she planned on visiting Endeavour after hours on Wednesday and knew it would be an emotional experience for her.

"I'm ready for it," Kerrick said. "I have my box of tissue."

The Endeavour ferry plane will refuel at Biggs Army Airfield at Fort Bliss at about 8:30 a.m. Thursday. The public will not be allowed on Fort Bliss property to witness the landing.

"I would just encourage everybody to go outside in El Paso when it comes by and say hello - or goodbye - to Endeavour and let her know that she served us well and that everybody loves her," Kerrick said.

Less than three hours later it is expected to leave and do a flyby of White Sands and Las Cruces and land in Los Angeles on Friday.

For Kerrick, the space shuttles being ferried across the country to their places of retirement is more of a closure than the final space shuttle mission last year.

"It is good closure and I'm very happy," Kerrick said. "They could have just taken different routes but they are choosing to fly over key areas of Houston on their way (to California) and of course they're stopping by El Paso as well because El Paso played a very critical role in NASA's success. I think it's great that they're able to do this, to give the employees just one more time to say goodbye."

People have had a special fascination with the space shuttle program since its inception, and Kerrick sees why.

"I mean it left the planet," Kerrick said. "There's nothing else that you can go out and see that actually leaves the planet and carries people. I can only imagine when we were going to the moon, what the excitement around those times would have been like. But I was too little when that happened. So this is all that I've ever known. And I grew up with the shuttle. Like I said, this is our friend. And you get very emotionally attached, especially working at NASA. You see the hard work that goes into getting a shuttle to fly. Thousands and thousands of people across the United States have a hand in it. Somebody's responsible for the main engines, somebody's responsible for the crew training, and you know, all the little things no one ever sees. And the public, you see the astronauts, you see the excitement, but for us it's a different level of excitement because you know so many people's hearts and souls have been poured into this for so many years."

In mid-October, Endeavour will be transported down Los Angeles city streets to the California Science Center.

Endeavour's cross-country flight is the last flight for a space shuttle. Atlantis will remain at Kennedy for display. Discovery already is at the Smithsonian Institution, parked at a hangar in Virginia since April.

Endeavour - the replacement for the destroyed Challenger shuttle - made its debut in 1992 and flew 25 times in space before retiring. It logged 123 million miles in space and circled Earth nearly 4,700 times. Its last mission was in May 2011.

With the space shuttle program's retirement, Kerrick has moved back to her other job.

"I was working with both the space station and shuttle," said Kerrick, a flight director since 2005. "So once the shuttle retired I went back to the space station and I'm currently the assistant to the chief for the office of the International Space Station, which means I supervise all of the folks that sit in Mission Control for the space station. I'm the lead for our flight directors, making sure that folks are trained, that we have adequate staffing, and then helping with their personal development plans. I've been at NASA now for 20 years and so I am no longer leading missions, I'm managing folks who lead missions and it's been a great joy to help mentor these folks and watch them grow."

More on Ginger Kerrick:

-She is the first female flight director of Hispanic descent at NASA.

-1987 Hanks High School graduate.

-1991 graduate of UTEP with bachelor's degree in physics.

-1993 master's degree from Texas Tech University.

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