Texas Tech University

Alumnus Launching to Space Station Has Plenty of Peers

Glenys Young

September 12, 2017


More than a dozen Texas Tech faculty and alumni have worked in the space industry.

Joseph M. Acaba
Joseph M. Acaba

Texas Tech University's graduates have been figuratively shooting for the stars since the university's creation more than 90 years ago, but some extra special individuals have taken that challenge literally.

NASA astronaut Joseph M. Acaba, who earned his master's degree in Education, Curriculum and Instruction from Texas Tech in 2015, is headed into space for the third time. Along with fellow NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, Acaba lifts off for the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the Russia Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft today (Sept. 12).

Acaba logged a total of 138 days in space during his previous two missions. In 2009, he flew to the ISS aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery and eventually conducted two spacewalks. In 2012, he returned to the space station on a Soyuz spacecraft to serve as flight engineer for Expedition 31/32, which involved more than 130 in-flight experiments.

On this mission, Expedition 53/54, crew members will continue several hundred experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and earth science. Among these is Functional Immune, which analyzes blood and saliva samples to determine changes taking place in crew members' immune systems during flight.

Of course, Acaba is not Texas Tech's only connection to the space industry – not by a long shot. Here are some of the other Texas Tech alumni and faculty who have worked in the field:

Charles A. Bassett II

Capt. Charles A. Bassett II

Degree: Bachelor of Science degree, electrical engineering
Class: Texas Technological College, 1960.

Bassett was among the third group of astronauts named by NASA in October 1963 and selected to be the pilot of Gemini 9 alongside Elliott See. Both men were killed four months before launch when their T-38 trainer crashed into Building 101 at McDonnell Space Center in St. Louis. Building 101 was where all Gemini vehicles were assembled. They died within 500 feet of their spacecraft.

In 1993, the now-Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering named Bassett a Distinguished Engineer. In November 1996, Texas Tech dedicated an electrical engineering research laboratory building in Bassett's honor. Among those in attendance that day was fellow Texas Tech graduate and future STS-107 Columbia commander Rick Husband.

Bernard A. Harris

Dr. Bernard A. Harris Jr.

Texas Tech involvement: A former member of the Texas Tech University Board of Regents
Degree: Medical degree
Class: Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine, 1982

Shortly after Harris completed a National Research Council Fellowship at the NASA Ames Research Center, he joined Johnson Space Center as a clinical scientist and flight surgeon. Selected by NASA in January 1990, Harris became an astronaut in July 1991. A veteran of two space flights, Harris logged more than 438 hours in space as mission specialist aboard STS-55 Columbia (1993) and as payload commander on STS-63 Discovery (1995), at which time he also became the first African-American to walk in space. Harris left NASA in 1996, but then served as vice president and chief scientist of SPACEHAB, Inc., a space commercialization company, directing its space science business.

In 1998, Harris created the Harris Foundation, a Houston-based nonprofit that supports programs that empower underserved individuals to recognize their potential and pursue their dreams.

"My education at Texas Tech University was critical to my success as a physician and an astronaut,” Harris said. "The medical training that I received at the Texas Tech School of Medicine enabled my residency in internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic and launched my research career at NASA, which ultimately led to two space shuttle missions. I am so proud to be a Texas Tech grad.”

Texas Tech is home to the Dr. Bernard Harris Pre-Medical Society, which helps aspiring medical school applicants, and the Bernard Harris, M.D. Endowed Scholarship to support medical student education. It also hosts the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp each year to enhance middle school students' proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Bernard A. Harris

Col. Rick Husband

Degree: Bachelor of Science degree, mechanical engineering
Class: Texas Tech, 1980

Husband was a pilot on STS-96 Discovery (1999), a 10-day mission that included the first docking with the ISS. He returned to space as crew commander of STS-107 Columbia (2003), a 16-day science and research mission. Husband and six crewmates perished when Columbia broke apart during re-entry over Texas, 16 minutes before the scheduled landing.

Among his many talents, Husband sang with the university choir. He even took the time to email the choir during his last mission to let them know he was exercising in space to their CD.

In 2010, Husband's widow, Evelyn Thompson, donated materials from Husband's collection to the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library.

"Rick and I have an absolute love for Texas Tech: our alma mater, where we fell in love, met and married later, so it was something I didn't have to struggle with at all,” she said. "When I figured out that was an option for all of his collection to go to Texas Tech, it made absolute perfect sense; it was a perfect fit as such an integral part of our lives. And I knew, absolutely without any hesitation, that Rick would have been so thrilled that I made that decision.”

Husband's pilot aboard STS-107, William "Willie” McCool, also has ties to Texas Tech. His mother, Audrey McCool, is a Texas Tech alumna who now serves as interim department chair for Hospitality and Retail Management in the College of Human Sciences. McCool's father, Barent McCool, is an associate professor in the college's Restaurant, Hotel and Institutional Management Program.

Paul S. Lockhart

Col. Paul S. Lockhart

Degree: Bachelor of Science degree, mathematics
Class: Texas Tech, 1978

Lockhart completed his degree at Texas Tech before being commissioned in 1981 to the United States Air Force. He was an F-16 test pilot when he was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1996 and later piloted two space flights aboard Endeavour in 2002, STS-111 and STS-113 to the ISS.

Lockhart attended the Royal College of Defence Studies in London in 2004 as a colonel in the U.S. Air Force. He retired from the military in 2007 and served as a special assistant to the associate administrator at NASA. Since that time, he has worked in the private sector, serving as senior vice president of aerospace operations and service for Vencore Inc., a private defense contractor in Virginia, and now at Blue Storm Associates, a startup company started by his wife, Mary, that develops sensors for drones.

"Texas Tech was the foundation for my success in the military, NASA and now the private sector,” Lockhart said. "The professors, staff and leadership at Texas Tech pushed me to strive for excellence. I credit my time at this university as most pivotal.”

The Texas Tech Alumni Association named Lockhart one of the 2017 Distinguished Alumni of Texas Tech University earlier this year.

Al Sacco Jr.

Al Sacco Jr.

Texas Tech involvement: Dean of the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering

Before landing in Lubbock in 2010, Sacco flew as the payload specialist aboard STS-73 Columbia (1995). The 16-day mission focused on materials science, biotechnology, combustion science and fluid mechanics contained within the pressurized Spacelab module.

Using his space flight experience, Sacco has since given about 400 presentations to approximately 45,000 K-12 teachers and their students as a means to motivate students to consider careers in science and engineering. He is a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and in 2004 was elected to the International Academy of Astronautics.

Those experiences for success are something Sacco strives to emulate in his current position.

"At NASA, I learned teamwork can overcome most issues, but you need to completely trust your team and keep your eyes on the goal and the objectives to meet that goal,” he said. "At Texas Tech, the goal is to become one of the best engineering schools in the world. To get across the idea of teamwork, at the entrance of all engineering buildings we have large signs that say, ‘A Community of Scholars-more than just a group of individuals.' This is the essence of the NASA culture, and, if we can adopt it, it will allow us to do great things within the time and financial restraints we have.”

Sally Davis

Sally P. Davis

Degree: Bachelor of Science degree, mathematics
Class: Texas Tech, 1980

Davis was a Russian interface officer (RIO) in the Shuttle-Mir program for Atlantis missions STS-71 (1995), STS-74 (1995) and STS-76 (1996), coordinating communications between Houston and the Russian Mission Control Center near Moscow. Davis also worked as a flight design manager, putting together the trajectory information required to do a flight. She was a flight director for the ISS from 1996 through 2008.

Davis later served as a shuttle systems safety manager, a position typically more intensive leading up to the flight, as opposed to the actual mission. For the final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2011, she was on the Mission Management Team in Houston as the representative for the Space Shuttle Program's Safety and Mission Assurance office.

Patricia R. DeLucia

Patricia R. Delucia

Texas Tech involvement: Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences

DeLucia is the coordinator of the department's Human Factors Program, a multidisciplinary field concerned with what is known about people, their abilities, characteristics and limitations to the design of equipment they use, environments in which they function and jobs they perform.

DeLucia served on the standing review panel for the NASA Johnson Space Center Human Research Program Space Human Factors and Habitability Element (SHFE) from 2009-2012. The SHFE portfolio establishes human factors standards and guidelines for interaction of the human system with hardware, software, procedures and the spacecraft environment and facilitates development of tools, metrics and methodologies for use in implementation, assessment and validation of standards and requirements.

"The panel was a collection of experts who assessed the program and made recommendations,” DeLucia said. "I was a member of that panel and learned a lot about the research activities being conducted in the SHFE and about the risks that were encountered on the missions and the different countermeasures that were being considered.”


Dr. Jerry Grimes

Texas Tech involvement: Assistant program director of orthopedics at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

Before attending medical school, Grimes spent eight years as an engineer at Johnson Space Center. His group provided support for the communications to the space shuttle and the ISS and assisted with the design and operations of equipment for payloads, flight vehicles and equipment on the ground.

The sense of unity he felt in that job is one he has also brought to his students.

"It is amazing what a dedicated, talented and well-trained team can accomplish,” Grimes said. "At NASA, before every mission, long and exhaustive testing and simulations prepare the team for the harsh environment of spaceflight operations. I try to instill in our residents the same since of team work and preparation to enhance patient care.”

Ginger Kerrick

Ginger Kerrick

Degree: Bachelor and Master of Science degrees, physics
Class: Texas Tech, 1991 and 1993, respectively

During Kerrick's master's studies, she worked as a summer intern and cooperative education student at Johnson Space Center. Kerrick's first permanent assignment was as a Materials Research Engineer. She later became the first non-astronaut spacecraft communicator and the first person of Hispanic heritage to lead Mission Control as flight director for the ISS.

"Texas Tech University not only provided me a well-rounded education, but the people I met there really helped build up my skills and truly supported me in my goal to work at NASA,” Kerrick said.

The Texas Tech Alumni Association named her a Distinguished Alumnus in 2004 and again in 2012. As a flight operations division chief for NASA, Kerrick was inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in 2016.

Lucy Kranz

Lucy V. Kranz

Degree: Bachelor of Arts, political science
Class: Texas Tech, 1981

Kranz's father, Gene Kranz, was the NASA flight director recognized for his efforts that helped save the Apollo 13 crew. He coined the phrase "failure is not an option.” Her father's history as a pioneer in human space flight, combined with her job at Kelly Air Force Base in the procurement department, gave Lucy Kranz the desire to work for NASA. She was especially motivated by the idea that she could "participate in buying the space systems and hardware that put humans in space.”

Lucy Kranz retired from NASA after serving as manager of mission support to the Orion Project, intended to design, develop, test and deliver a human-rated crew transportation vehicle capable of exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

She said she enjoyed her studies in public policy and the challenges of applying policy for good outcomes. "I used my education from Texas Tech every day that I came to work,” she said.

Dimitri Pappas

Dimitri Pappas

Texas Tech involvement: Associate professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry

Before coming to Texas Tech in 2005, Pappas served as a senior scientist on the bioastronautics contract under Wyle Laboratories at Johnson Space Center. He worked on the ISS program, developing sensors and instrumentation for biomedical research. He also led a group of scientists and interfaced with a team of engineers in a joint effort to translate their work into hardware for future flights.

He has since earned national and international recognition for his work using new chemical methods to study and detect illnesses such as heart disease and cancer, and has been noted as one of the top bioanalytical chemists in the nation.

"Working at Johnson Space Center was a great initiation into cell science,” he said, "and many of the biological skills I picked up there are still used in my group's research.”

Ken Peek

Ken Peek

Degree: Bachelor of Science degree, engineering physics
Class: Texas Tech, 1994

While earning his master's degree in space studies, Peek began working as a flight controller for the United Space Alliance, a spaceflight operations company that did contract work for NASA.

In 2003, he helped in the initial recovery efforts after the Columbia accident and returned a month later to help sort, process and identify debris.

In 2012, he became a mission director for Orbital ATK, managing a team of 40 personnel during operations of the Cygnus space crafts that deliver supplies to the ISS, remove its trash, perform experiments and then burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. He is also a U.S. Navy Reserve officer performing work with the Navy Space Cadre.

In March 2016, he led the OA-6 mission "S.S. Rick Husband,” and in November, he will work with Acaba on the OA-8 Cygnus mission to the ISS.

"Texas Tech helped to build my foundation for this industry. My degree is in engineering physics. The engineering side has served me well with the mechanics of aerospace – fluids, thermodynamics, etc. The physics side helps with other parts, such as orbital dynamics via Newton and Kepler,” Peek said. "We're flying more diverse payloads and experiments on Cygnus as well.  Having a foundation in engineering and science that allows you to be flexible to adapt to this type of work is critical.”

Joel Tumbiolo

Joel Tumbiolo

Degree: Master's in Atmospheric Sciences
Class: Texas Tech, 1989

Tumbiolo became a meteorologist for the U.S. Air Force, which put him on the path that led to his position at Cape Canaveral. From 1991 to 2013, Tumbiolo led all weather support for both the space shuttles and expendable vehicles.

Just before a vehicle blasts off, a NASA test director calls for a status check from all flight directors monitoring the various crucial systems. Tumbiolo was among those responding with a "go/no go for launch.”

"I provided valuable weather support to the space program for 20-plus years at Cape Canaveral,” Tumbiolo said. "Texas Tech provided valuable skills that I definitely needed during my tenure there.”

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