Space finalist still reaching for the stars

January 28, 1991|By Nancy Lawson | Nancy Lawson,Evening Sun Staff

Being at the top of a mountain is not as exhilarating to Kathleen Beres as climbing it.

And being among the stars, a lifelong dream of Beres' ever since the launching of Sputnik, is no more fun than reaching for them, she said.

"People say, 'Oh, my gosh, all that training and you never got to fly.' It's not disappointment. It's the contrary," said Beres, 42, one of 10 finalists chosen by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1985 to be in its teacher-in-space program that ended five years ago today in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

"My life has been an extraordinary experience. It's been several lifetimes. I would have loved to have flown in space, but it's really the whole process. It's an analogy with mountain climbing. It's the whole process, the experience of being on the mountain," said the veteran mountain climber and former Kenwood High School science teacher who now works in the Washington field office of the Connecticut-based Hughes Danbury Optical Systems.

Even after witnessing the deaths of schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe -- who was to have been the first private citizen in space -- and of the rest of the Challenger crew, Beres and the other finalists and semifinalists in the teacher-in-space program were still firm believers in space shuttle flight, she said.

She would even fly in a space shuttle tonight if she could, she said.

"I think what we need to do now is get that confidence level back up. And again it will never be completely safe. Exploration is always high-risk. I think the point really is [people] are going to have to realize that it's being done for humankind."

Public reaction to the Challenger explosion and to the difficulties NASA had with its Hubble Space Telescope, on which Beres worked during her one-year stint at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt from September 1986 to August 1987, led her to believe that many people don't realize the "incredible challenges" of space travels.

"The public I think misses or doesn't understand or forgets that this is the edge of technology, state of the art. . . . People take in stride that something as simple as a hair dryer or can opener is being recalled. A person can lose their life in an automobile, and let something happen in space programs, and [they say] what isn't someone doing?" she said.

Beres, a resident and native of Rosedale in Baltimore County, hasn't stopped for a breath since the Challenger explosion. After the accident, she continued to work for eight more months with the scientists and engineers in the space-propulsion labs at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. She had been sent there by NASA after her month of teacher-astronaut training in Houston in the summer of 1985.

From September 1986 to August 1987, Beres finished out her two-year contract with NASA by working at Goddard Space Flight Center. That September she took a job at Westinghouse Electric Corp., first in the office of the president and then as a manager in Westinghouse's space division working on military space programs.

In February 1990, she accepted her current job at Hughes Danbury Optical Systems, a part of the California-based Hughes Aircraft Corp., as a manager in space science acting as a liaison between NASA and Hughes Danbury.

Beres doesn't miss her 15 years of teaching because she believes her speeches to various groups and organizations, including one she gave at the White House, can reach many more people.

"The universe is my classroom now. I feel like I have a bigger audience or I have more students now than when I taught, whether it's as small as a Lion's Club or as large as some national organization."

Although her work schedule doesn't allow much time for mountain climbing now, Beres still managed to get to Argentina with the World Wildlife Foundation, to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii with the National Science Foundation and to the Antarctic and the Falkland Islands on a Smithsonian science expedition in 1987 and 1988. She went to Spain and Portugal on a cultural trip with International Education between December 1989 and January 1990.

In October, Beres married Miller Einsel, an engineer in the space division of Westinghouse.

The 1985 Westinghouse Award of Excellence that hangs on Beres' wall reads, "Your exploration of the world has taken you beyond the classroom, across the oceans, to the mountaintops, and nearly as far as the stars. We honor you for being a stellar role model -- for our nation's youth and science teachers -- both motivated from your example."

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