A Clinton native who launched model rockets as a boy is now helping space shuttle astronauts through every step of their space walks. When Discovery lifts off May 15th, Keith Johnson will be the E-A-O or extravehicular activity officer. After months of training with the crew, he’ll be in Houston guiding astronauts over the radio through three spacewalks, performing maintenance and assembly on the International Space Station. Johnson says “There’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to get ready with the crew but it all pays off when we have successful missions. It’s a very, very rewarding and very exciting job.”During spacewalks, Johnson monitors the procedures they’ve written so when problems develop with a tool or a bolt not turning right, he can tell the astronauts what sort of “work-around” alternatives there are. After the Columbia accident, Johnson and his team helped develop techniques that could be used in orbit to repair damage to the shuttle, an effort to increase the safety of future crews. Johnson graduated from Clinton High School in 1984 and received a bachelor of science in aerospace engineering from Iowa State University in 1988. Johnson recalls the Apollo moon missions and watching Skylab fly overhead as a kid, and making model airplanes and launching rockets. “I always dreamed about the space program and aerospace so I knew that’s something that I wanted to do.” One side note, Burlington native Jim Kelly, a veteran shuttle astronaut, is scheduled to be the pilot on the first “return to flight” mission, launching in May.
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