Astronaut Charles Camarda
CHARLES CAMARDA HAD MIXED EMOTIONS when he learned he would be the Mission Specialist for space shuttle Discovery – mission STS-114 in July 2005. It was what he had joined NASA’s astronaut program to do, but at the same time he was only too aware that this would be the first crewed space mission since the shuttle Columbia’s heat tiles had failed while re-entering Earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003, destroying the shuttle and killing its seven crew.
“We felt very responsible [for the astronauts who would follow],” he said. “It was very important to us to be successful, and to make sure the methods and what we learned we could pass on to the next crew.”
Successful the mission certainly was – and a career highlight for Camarda, an engineer who started at NASA working on thermal structures at Langley Research Center. No longer an active astronaut, he remains at the space agency
as a Senior Advisor for Innovation to the Office of Chief Engineer at the Johnson Space Center in Texas.
Inspired by the methods and lessons he learned about collaboration in the wake of the Columbia disaster, Camarda has established the EPIC Education Foundation and the EPIC Challenge, which aims to transform education and inspire students in STEM by challenging them to develop solutions to real-world problems.
“Failure is so important to what we do, yet we beat it out of the children at school; they have to get only one answer and it’s this answer, that’s the correct answer,” he said during a recent visit to Australia.
“Life isn’t like that. Most problems that we solve have many solutions, and there are ways to fail.”