NASA astronaut offers backstage view of space program

By From page B8 | February 13, 2013

FOLSOM — In his tiny office at UC Davis, Professor Steve Robinson holds up two letters. One is a letter rejecting his application to come to UC Davis as an undergraduate. The other, dated nearly 40 years later, is an invitation from UC Davis for Robinson to join the engineering faculty as a tenured professor.

“A career in NASA is like this,” noted Robinson. “There is rejection, there is failure and, with some persistence, amazing things are accomplished.”

In between the receipt of those two letters, the Sacramento-born Robinson — a 36-year veteran of the space program as scientist, engineer, pilot, and celebrated astronaut — has flown four space shuttle missions, logging 48 days and almost 20 million miles in space, served as Special Capsule Communicator for 15 years, oversaw Sen. John Glenn’s research during his famous shuttle mission, learned enough Russian to be certified as a Cosmonaut and, perhaps most dramatically, in the “Return to Flight” mission following the loss of space shuttle Columbia, undertook an unprecedented and unplanned repair of the space shuttle Discovery’s heat shield, as the nation and the entire world held its breath.

In his first public lecture since leaving NASA, Robinson will take the audience backstage inside the nation’s space program. During the dynamic multimedia presentation at Three Stages on Feb. 19, “I will be sharing pictures and stories from the shuttle that I’ve never shared before,” said Robinson.

“The story of Steve Robinson is a story of adventure, courage, perseverance and incredibly hard work,” notes Three Stages Executive Director Dave Pier. “His lecture at Three Stages will be the first ticketed speech since leaving NASA and taking up residence here in the capital region. We’re honored to invite him to Three Stages.” 

Robinson started working for NASA in 1975 as a student co-op at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. After working as a graphic artist, surveyor, musician and radio disc jockey, he joined NASA Ames in 1979 as a research scientist in the fields of fluid dynamics, aerodynamics, experimental instrumentation and computational scientific visualization. While at NASA Ames, Robinson earned master’s and doctorate degrees from Stanford University.

After 12 years of rejection from the NASA Astronaut program, Robinson was selected as an astronaut in December 1994. He held a wide variety of technical assignments within the Astronaut Office, including testing space shuttle flight control software, developing onboard computer and flight crew equipment and helping to develop the International Space Station robot arm.

Robinson has flown on four space shuttle missions and has served as a backup crew member for the fourth crew of the International Space Station:

• Shuttle Mission STS-85 Discovery (Aug. 7-19, 1997) was a 12-day mission. Robinson’s responsibilities on STS-85 included flying both the shuttle robot arm and the experimental Japanese robot arm and serving as a contingency spacewalker.

• Shuttle Mission STS-95 Discovery (Oct. 29 to Nov. 7, 1998) was a nine-day science mission, during which the crew supported more than 80 payloads, including a study of the aging process with crew member John Glenn. As Payload Commander, Robinson was responsible for the accomplishment of all scientific objectives by the crew.

• Shuttle Mission STS-114 Discovery (July 26 to Aug. 9, 2005) was the “Return to Flight” mission; the first shuttle flight in the two and-a-half years after the loss of space shuttle Columbia. The objective of the mission was to resupply the International Space Station and evaluate new procedures for flight safety and shuttle inspection and repair techniques. Robinson served as Flight Engineer and also performed three spacewalks, totaling 20 hours and 5 minutes, including an unplanned and unprecedented repair of space shuttle Discovery’s heat shield. When asked what it was like out on the robotic arm, Robinson said I wish I could describe it fully to you. It’s so unlike any other experience I’ve ever had. … Analogies don’t work very well. I kept feeling like I was trying to put a wide-angle lens on my whole brain to try to take it in. You’re just a dot in the universe. And the universe is vast. And it’s dynamic, and everything is moving. And the shadows … the sun goes up or down every 45 minutes. So, the shadows were going by rapidly underneath. There were lots of spectacular views and surprising sensations. It was a really huge experience for me.”

• Shuttle Mission STS-130 Endeavour (Feb. 8 -21, 2010) launched at night, carrying the International Space Station’s final permanent modules.

Dr. Stephen Robinson will give a Distinguished Speakers lecture entitled “This Side of Impossible — Achieving the Dream of Spaceflight”  at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19, ay Three Stages. Tickets are $19 to $29; premium tickets are available for $39. Student tickets (with ID) cost $12. Purchase them online at threestages.net or from Three Stages ticket office at (916) 608-6888 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and two hours before show time. Three Stages is located on the west side of Folsom Lake College campus in Folsom, facing East Bidwell Street.

Three Stages


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