Md. native to fly shuttle

December 06, 2008|By FRANK ROYLANCE | FRANK ROYLANCE,frank.roylance@baltsun.com

NASA has named a Baltimore native to pilot the shuttle Endeavour on a flight next December to the International Space Station. Col. Terry Virts Jr., 41, a graduate of Oakland Mills High School in Columbia and the U.S. Air Force Academy, will be making his first space flight since joining the astronaut corps in 2000. The mission, labeled STS-130, is assigned to deliver another module to expand the orbiting space station, as well as a seven-window cupola designed as a control room for robotic operations on the station's exterior. Virts was born in Baltimore and, in a 50th anniversary video for NASA, recalled reading a book as a young boy about the 1969 moon landings. "I was only 1 when Neil and Buzz landed on the moon during Apollo 11," he said. "But I still remember getting that book and reading it for my first book. I just grew up loving space, being around it, hearing about it. "I've just been fascinated. And I thought the Apollo landings were the coolest thing ever since I was a kid," he said. Virts graduated from Oakland Mills in 1985. He earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the Air Force Academy in 1989, with a minor in French, and a master's in aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1997. The F-16 fighter pilot has served in Korea and Germany. In the late 1990s, he flew 45 combat missions to suppress Iraqi air defense fire. In 1997, he was accepted to the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He has logged more than 3,700 flight hours in 40 different aircraft. Since joining the astronaut corps, Virts has helped to test shuttle electronics systems, supported the Space Station Expedition 9 crew, and handled communications between Houston and eight space station expeditions and three shuttle flights. He also appeared in a TV cameo role in a Star Trek: Enterprise episode, playing starship engineer T. Virts. Virts is married to the former Stacy Hill of Columbia. They have two children and now live in the Houston area. His parents still live in Maryland.

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