Charles Camarda returned to campus Tuesday night to serve as a panelist after the showing of ?Columbia: The Tragic Loss,? and to present President Charles Steger with a Virginia Tech flag that was flown in space. Camarda completed his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at Virginia Tech in 1990. He was aboard the National Aeronautics and Spaces Administration?s most recent Space Shuttle Discovery mission this past summer that docked with the International Space Station.
The documentary, ?Columbia: The Tragic Loss,? was the final event of the three-day Jewish Film Festival. It documented the 2004 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster and paid tribute to Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut to travel into outer space.
After the film, a panel received questions from the audience in Squires Student Center, Colonial Hall. The panel was composed of Camarda, Donner Grigsby, Rakesh Kapania, Wayne Scales and Chris Hall.
Camarda and Grigsby are both NASA employees, and they were able to provide inside information to questions asked about the Columbia mission. Rakesh is a professor of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering at Virginia Tech. Scales is currently an Associate Professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Hall is a member of the Aerospace and Ocean Engineering Department at Virginia Tech.
The panel commented on topics from the positives and negatives of man and unmanned space flights, to what it takes to be an astronaut.
Camarda sees a future in space exploration for manned and unmanned missions.
?It is going to be a combination of both in the future. Manned and unmanned missions will both be used, because both techniques have their benefits,? he said.
Grigsby also spoke on the topic of manned and unmanned space missions.
?There are some things that a robot can?t tell you. Robots cannot speak. There will be a place for both methods of exploration,? he said.
Camarda was able to answer the question of how the Columbia?s damage was not detected before it was cleared to reenter the atmosphere.
? There was only thermal sensors on the wing area that was predicted to be the place of damage. So a hole in the wing could not be detected. Columbia also did not have a robotic arm to check for damage, and they could not dock and check,? he said.
Camarda went on to mention that his mission and spacecraft were equipped with more sensor on the wings, a robotic arm and they docked with the International Space Station. Grigsby nodded his head in agreement to Camarda?s response.
Camarda was especially capable to respond to the question of what it takes to be an astronaut.
?One year of specialized training. Training in a pool to simulate space walks. You have to have training in how to use a robotic arm. Then you have to pass a series of tests that indicate a persons readiness, and if you past the tests then you are assigned to a crew. It can take up to four years of training,? he said.
Austin Crispens, a junior electrical engineering major, commented on the panel and the night.
?The experience was very educational, and the panel kept their answers appropriate for the audience. We were able to follow what they were saying,? he said.
Beth Soref agreed with Austin?s praise of the panel, and success of the night.
?They are all very knowledgeable,? Soref said.
Soref and Crispens are both members of Hillel at Virginia Tech, one of the sponsors to last night?s event.