El Paso Connection To The Space Shuttle Program

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POSTED: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - 5:37pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - 5:40pm

EL PASO - Tomorrow morning the space shuttle mission will come to an end. Not many people know this, but El Paso played an important role in the program.

If you've ever been to the El Paso Museum of History, you've likely seen a T-38 jet that now acts as an exhibit...

"It was also used to train astronauts," Museum Curator Barbara Angus said.

Angus says El Paso has had a long running history with flying, and that includes spaceflight. The T-38 was once used to train astronauts.

"To fly the space vehicles you needed the type of training that was available in a jet. You had to learn the instrumentation," Angus said.

The history doesn't just sit in a museum. Behind a restricted area at the El Paso Airport, NASA has two hangars and a training program.

"I'd think it's safe to say that 90 plus percent of the astronauts that have been to space have been through here," NASA Site Manager Stephen Malarchick said.

Malarchick says every Shuttle Pilot and Commander that has gone into space, has been in El Paso. It's where they would plan their training flights before lifting off in one of the T-38's for a training mission.

A few T-38's still sit in the hangar, but they won't be used for shuttle training anymore.

"This phase of exploring space is coming to an end. We're starting a new phase starting tomorrow when the shuttle lands," Malarchick said.

Malarchick says even though the shuttle mission is over, space exploration is not.

"We've been to the moon before, but we haven't been beyond there. The plan is to go beyond there," he said.

The plans to go into deep space are already in motion, and Malarchick says El Paso will continue to play a role in space exploration, but that exact role is unknown. What is known, NASA is renewing their lease on the El Paso Airport hangars for another five years.

El Paso hasn't just been home to the training center, some El Pasoans have played a very important role in space exploration as well.

Ginger Kerrick, the first female flight director for NASA, is an El Paso native. So is John Waldron. He was the youngest member of the space station team, according to the NASA website.

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