When NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough returns to the International Space Station, it won't be aboard an American craft.
Army Lt. Col. Kimbrough is set to make a second trip to the space station for a six-month stay in 2012. But NASA is set to scrap its 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 middle and high school students at Augusta Preparatory Day School on Tuesday.
"It kind of gives me heartburn to know that our country no longer will have the means to go to space," he said.
Kimbrough recounted his initial trip to the space station aboard the shuttle Endeavour. He referred to the trip as the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition mission.
The shuttle's payload on that 2008 mission included a new bedroom and new bathroom for the space station. Before 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.
Kimbrough took two space walks to repair solar panels and a robotic arm.
The best part of the experience, he said, was the shuttle takeoff.
"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."
Jack Hall, Augusta Prep's head of school, 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 served as an attack helicopter platoon leader during Operation Desert Storm.
After earning a master's degree at Georgia Tech, Kimbrough returned to West Point as a math teacher.
In 2000, he 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 great. One such reward, he said, was seeing the Earth from 200 miles above.
"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."