Boeing Rep Remembers Shuttle, Builds Future: Part 2

AmericaSpace concludes its conversation with Boeing’s Brooke Padden. She discusses her time on the shuttle program, as well as her hopes for the future. Image Credit: Boeing

AmericaSpace concludes its discussion with Boeing’s Brooke Padden in this second installment of her interview. In it she details her times on the space shuttle program, what she dealt with during the transitional period to commercial crew and most importantly? What she is now doing as a member of the team developing the Crew Transportation System or CST-100. 

AmericaSpace: What has it been like for you during this transitional period?

Padden: “Some of the Boeing people moved on to work with Boeing’s commercial airplane division, others went on to work on SLS (NASA’s Space Launch System) … it’s interesting when you talk to somebody, maybe you run into them in the hallway, it is kind of like a family reunion, ‘Hey I just ran into so-and-so and they are working this project and they just keep pinging me because they want to be a part of the next space program. It’s different to see materials and buildings being excessed, it’s difficult to see pipe-work being ripped out of the processing facilities and the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) it’s hard, it’s hard on people who have had to relocate their families to other states because their skills aren’t currently needed.”

Space shuttle Endeavour left Kennedy Space Center last month for her final destination, the California Science Center. Padden plans to visit her “favorite” orbiter with her children. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

AmericaSpace: Let’s touch on something a little more happy then. Looking back on the shuttle program, there were a lot of people that had a ‘favorite orbiter’ – was this the case with you? If so could you share a story about it? 

Padden: “A lot of my best memories might not be suitable for print (laughs)! You know I began my career in structures on 105, Endeavour, she was coming back from what we call OMDP and that’s where they went to California for mods and upgrades and she came back and she had over 760 open pieces of papers just in the structures arena alone that we had to close and work and we had a lot of mods that hadn’t been done yet. I got my ‘initiation’ on 105 having to rebuild the elevon code, it was a mod we did, it was the first time that a team of structure technicians and tile technicians worked together. It was a change that was brought upon by Mark Nappi who felt that our two systems were so closely-related that it only made sense that we combine those two groups. It was a real eye-opening experience.”

Padden stands next to one of the orbiters she cared for during her sixteen year time with the shuttles. Photo Credit: Boeing

AmericaSpace: Let’s take it a step forward to where you are now, are there any experiences that remind you of your work on shuttle and are serving to inspire you? 

Padden: “Well when I accepted the position over here on the CST-100, I was notified that I would be working with a gentleman by the name of Anthony Chambers. I began out here my career working with Tony. He was here as a PCS and he transferred over to Boeing shortly after I hired on, but I’ve worked with Tony for my entire career. He’s a really great guy to work with and it was a real treat to know that I would have that familiarity, that foundation to build off of.”

AmericaSpace: Are there elements of your time with shuttle that has made the transition over to commercial crew easier? I realize that the two vehicles are totally different in most ways, but perhaps there have been certain experiences that you can utilize to help Boeing produce this spacecraft?

Padden: “Boeing has been extremely good to me and I have watched as several managers here have worked very hard to place…everybody that they can, even though everyone has specific wants, needs and desires and they’ve worked really hard and they’ve listened to those people with families with small children who want to stay in the area they’ve worked really hard to place us in the right job and to keep us where we either want or need to be. As far as shuttle-work and CST-100 work? Design is design, There’s only one way to put a screw in (laughs) and aluminum is aluminum. Having said that, I was looking at some assemblies the other day and just in my mind I thought, ‘That’s very similar to the structure that is inside an orbiter’s wing, the way that the trusses are set up and so, structure is universal, there is a lot of both familiarity and similarity there. Now, of course, things that loads and how the vehicle is going to handle and land are totally different and those are things that we have people working on, doing analysis and telling us things that are going to be critical to our design.”

Boeing plans to launch the CST-100 atop one of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas v rockets. The first flight is scheduled to take place in 2015. Image Credit: ULA/NASA

AmericaSpace: Do you think you’ll go out to the California Science Center to see Endeavour?

Padden: “Well I’m doing some work with the California Science Center right now; I’m the subsystem manager for all the vehicles in terms of TPS and RCC (Thermal Protection System and Reinforced Carbon Carbon) so I’ve sat through all the meetings and telecons and done the walk-downs to prepare the vehicles for their final journey and I got family out in California and they have sent me so many pictures from Endeavour’s flyover of L.A. and Santa Barbara. I’ve taken my kids to the science center to see the dinosaurs and now I will take them to see Endeavour. It will be hard though. Looking at her from behind a wall and knowing you climbed into that wing gloved and checked the torque on wing nuts, wing bolts. It’ll be difficult to see it from that perspective, to listen a headset tell the world about the vehicle. For us? Those of us that worked these systems and worked on these orbiters, it’s a lot more personal.”

AmericaSpace: What was it like at the end of the shuttle program?

Padden: “In the beginning we were told that sixty days after the last wheel-stop that it would be the end. Of course that last launch date kept sliding to the right so we were all being extended and extended. There wasn’t really a lot of information; there was a whole lot of activity going on behind the scenes I’m sure, but for us? It wasn’t all visible to us because a lot of what is happening today wasn’t ready to be rolled out then. So a lot of us were losing hope and getting angry because for so long we had been the icon of space travel and you know the International Space Station? Holy cow our accomplishments in getting that built were phenomenal! The things that we implemented after the Columbia accident on our inspections, the team that had been built up, everything to see all of that capability lost and with no real direction? It was worrisome.”

AmericaSpace: Have you had a chance to check out any of NASA’s plans for its crewed deep space exploration efforts?

Padden: “Since the middle of January I have been working on some of NASA’s projects that will use some of the things that were to be used on the (now cancelled) Constellation Program. It’s exciting to see what they are proposing and the size of what it is going to take us to back to Moon and beyond.”

AmericaSpace: Do you see Boeing and other companies as arms of what will happen with these plans?

Padden: “There are going to be a lot more opportunities for companies like Boeing besides servicing the space station. I’m tremendously excited to be on the ground floor of that. There is a lot of potential there, a lot of possibilities.”

While the shuttle era might be a thing of the past, its legacy is echoed in Padden’s hopes for efforts to propel human space exploration. She feels that the expertise of the team assembled at Kennedy Space Center can accomplish anything set to them. Photo Credit: NASA

AmericaSpace: What do you think the public needs to know about the people who make the machines?

Padden: “I’m not sure that the public understands the amount of intelligence that this team of people holds, I am in awe when I hear in meetings the types of ideas that these incredible people come up with. To know that in this small section of Florida hosts so many amazing people, even though we don’t seem to be able to get the ballot correct (laughs)… We have an amazing skill base here and it would be a tremendous lot to not retain, to move forward to retain the skills that we have here.”

AmericaSpace: Well our time is about up, I have one last question; what do you see the legacy of the shuttles as being?

Padden: “The first time that I saw Discovery flying over the White House it was tremendously sad to see her go. When the media panned over the crowds gathered on the freeway, just like they did recently for Endeavour, there were all these people standing on the rooftops, the city came to a standstill to see them, to see these orbiters. I hope that this will spark interest with the public to support the space program, to support manned space flight. What we can accomplish when we set our minds to it is limitless and the positive PR these machines are providing as they head off into retirement might just serve to give the space agency the shot in the arm that it has needed for a long time.”

AmericaSpace: We certainly hope so Brooke, thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts with us.

Padden: “Thanks for listening!”


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