Race to the Finish

By Joe Eggert

December 2016

I had always been interested in airplanes and the magic of flight. In addition, growing up in Houston, I had always been interested in, and my family followed, the Manned Space Program. So in the spring of 1981 when I saw STS-1 take off like a rocket and land like an airplane, I knew I wanted to somehow be a part of it.

I started doing my research on NASA and found out that the best way for me to get involved in the Space Shuttle program was to become an engineer. Being perhaps just above average in math and science in school, I knew getting through an engineering program would be a challenge. In addition to the academic challenge, I was also married, had one child and had another on the way. Nevertheless, I had the support of my family and, with careful academic and financial planning, I set out to pursue my dream of being part of the Space Shuttle program. In 1987 I earned my mechanical engineering degree from the University of Texas at Arlington.

As part of my "plan" to get through school and support my family, I was accepted into UTA's Cooperative Education program and landed a nice rotational position at General Dynamics. Shortly after graduating in 1987 I decided to stay at GD and continue my work on the F-16 program. It wasn't until the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle in January 1986 that I got my final push to join the space program.

In the spring of 1988 I received an offer to join Rockwell in Houston as part of the Ascent Flight Design team designing the trajectory for STS-26, the first launch since the Challenger accident. I spent the bulk of the next 23 years working in various capacities on the Space Shuttle program. After the loss of STS-107 (Columbia) on Feb. 1, 2003, the beginning of the end of this program was put in motion.

Despite all of my time working on the Space Shuttle, my family and I had never witnessed a Shuttle launch at Kennedy Space Center until the very end of the program. One of the last and most memorable moments of my Space Shuttle career came on May 14, 2010, when my family and I ran every stoplight on the way to the launch site just a few minutes before the launch of STS-132. My career had come full circle and what a wonderful adventure it was -- all because of a "little" inspiration provided by Rockwell/Boeing.