Shuttle astronaut works for contractor, not NASA

March 01, 1995|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun Staff Writer

If the shuttle Endeavour blasts off on schedule early tomorrow, Silver Spring astronomer Ronald A. Parise will be the first company-paid astronaut to fly in space since . . . well, since the last time he flew in space, in 1990.

Dr. Parise is a payload specialist for Endeavour's Astro 2 ultraviolet astronomy mission and a senior principal scientist at Computer Sciences Corp., a big NASA contractor based in El Segundo, Calif.

He is one of an exclusive subset of astronauts who are not employed by NASA, the military or a university research program.

The last time anyone like him flew on the shuttle was in April 1985, NASA said, when payload specialist Charlie Walker, a test engineer with the McDonnell-Douglas Corp. flew aboard the shuttle Discovery. His job was to test systems he helped develop for manufacturing drugs in micro-gravity.

"It's the prestige, and ultimately having those people available to work on our largest contracts," said Peter M. Perry, director of science programs at Computer Sciences Corp. "It gives us a brain trust that's unbelievable."

Dr. Parise, meanwhile, gets his research, his paycheck and "the thrill of the ride."

The 16-day, $445 million Astro 2 flight -- the longest ever for the space shuttle if it goes as planned -- should provide astronomers with a vast amount of new data on hundreds of objects, from the moon and planets to powerful galaxies and quasars billions of light years from Earth.

Liftoff is scheduled for 1:37 a.m. tomorrow.

It is a Maryland-heavy flight. In addition to Dr. Parise, the seven-member crew includes Johns Hopkins University astro-geophysicist Sam Durrance of Lutherville and two Naval Academy graduates: Cmdr. Stephen S. Oswald (Class of 1973), and Flight Engineer Wendy B. Lawrence (1981).

Two of the three Astro 2 telescopes were built in Maryland -- the Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope at the university's Homewood campus and at the Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel; and the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

Dr. Parise, 43, is married and has two young children. A licensed pilot, scuba diver, sailor and amateur radio operator, he has always had an adventurous spirit.

"He told me he always dreamed of doing this [flying in space]. It was a childhood desire," said Dr. Perry.

The Ohio native earned his doctorate in astronomy at the University of Florida in 1979 and later joined Computer Sciences to work on the International Ultraviolet Explorer project, analyzing data from the IUE satellite launched in 1978.

He later joined the Goddard team developing the UIT. He is assigned to Goddard's Laboratory for Astronomy and Solar Physics, analyzing data from the 1990 Astro 1 mission, his first as a payload specialist.

CSC's 30,000 employees provide computer and other technical expertise. Just over half of the company's revenues comes from corporate customers, the rest from the federal government. National Aeronautics and Space Administration contracts accounted for $222 million of CSC's $2.6 billion in revenues in 1994.

Last May, it landed a $1 billion, eight-year NASA contract to manage and operate administrative and engineering computer systems at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

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