Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115,
When NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough returns to the International Space Station, it won't be via American-made transportation.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kimbrough is set to make a second trip to the space station for a six-month stay in 2012. However, NASA is set to scrap it's space shuttle program in September.
So, when Kimbrough takes his next journey to the stars, it'll be aboard a Russian rocket, he told a group of students today at Augusta Preparatory Day School.
"It kind of gives me heartburn to know that our country no longer will have the means to go to space," he told the middle and high school students at Augusta Prep.
Kimbrough, one of the few Army astronauts, then went on to recount his initial journey to the space station aboard the space shuttle Endeavor. He referred to the trip as the Extreme Home Makeover mission.
The shuttle's payload on that 2008 mission included a new bedroom and new bathroom for the space station. Prior to that mission, Kimbrough said American astronauts had to use Russian facilities.
"Now, because of us, the U.S. has its own bathroom on the space station," he joked.
Also on that mission, Kimbrough took two space walks to repair solar panels and a robotic arm.
The best part of the experience, Kimbrough said, was the take off.
"When we were taking off, I was giggling like a little kid," he said. "Imagine going from 0 to 17,500 mph in eight minutes."
Kimbrough's visit to Augusta Prep took more than year to plan, said Head of School Jack Hall.
Hall was Kimbrough's baseball coach at The Lovett School in Atlanta. They remained close friends as Kimbrough went on to study aerospace engineering at West Point. He later served as an attack helicopter platoon leader during Operation Desert Storm.
After earning a masters degree in science at Georgia Tech, Kimbrough returned to West Point as a math teacher. In 2000, Kimbrough was one of 11 chosen by NASA out of 4,000 applicants. The 42-year-old now lives in Houston near the Johnson Space Center.
Though his path to becoming an astronaut was grueling and the dangers of working in space are daunting, Kimbrough said the rewards are equally great.
One such reward, he said, was seeing the Earth from a 200-mile high vantage point.
"It looked so fragile and so beautiful," Kimbrough said. "It really inspires you to want to take care of the planet, take care of people, and stop all these wars."