The most recent space shuttle flight was one of the most closely-watched by millions of people around the world, as it was the first mission since the 2003 crash of Columbia. Iowa-born astronaut Jim Kelly, who piloted Discovery on the “Return to Flight” mission, says the intense pressure of such scrutiny and so many eyes didn’t bug him. Kelly says “Not really, especially during flight. As an astronaut, you’re being watched all the time anyway, whether it’s by your peers, or if working with Mission Control, there’s hundreds of people watching every switch you throw, every radio call you make. You’re constantly on stage.” Kelly, an Air Force colonel and Burlington native, says he knew the Discovery mission was an important landmark for NASA to demonstrate its return from the tragedy of Columbia, but he stayed focused. Kelly says it really struck him when he got back to earth to see how much it meant to everyone around the globe. “When I get all the stories from my relatives and friends, people crying around TVs as we landed at Edwards (Air Force Base in California) because we were home safe and all the letters I’ve gotten about folks praying for us. It’s really hit home post-flight more than anything. During the flight, you’re doing your job and concentrating on what’s happening and you tune all that stuff out.” Kelly says all astronauts have to do some soul-searching before deciding to strap into a ship that’s going to send them into orbit. Even after the loss of Columbia and its crew of seven, he says he never gave up his passion for the final frontier. Kelly says you have to be committed to the space program and he has been since a very young age, “committed to going out there in our universe and exploring it. So the first thing you have to do to get over it and to decide that you’re going to keep flying is to re-examine those values and see if you still hold those values and I absolutely did, that was never a question. I think what we’re doing is absolutely crucial to this nation and to this world.” The 14-day mission from late July into early August was Kelly’s second spaceflight and he holds out hope it won’t be his last. He and his wife, Dawn — also a Burlington native — have four kids and live in Houston, Texas.
You are here: / / Iowa astronaut not "bugged" by intense scrutiny