Lt. Col. Shane Kimbrough talks with Staff Sgt. James Harris, the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command NCO of the year, about space exploration during the 13th annual Space and Missile Defense Conference at the Von Braun Center.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The 13th annual Space and Missile Defense Conference drew about 1,100 paid attendees and about 270 exhibitors to the Von Braun Center Aug. 16-19 under the theme "Enabling Regional Warfighters."

It included presentations on integrated missile defense, regional missile defense, the new Cyber Huntsville initiative promoted by Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, the next generation of missile defense, and the use of space assets to enable the war fighter.

The conference also drew several special guests, including aviation and military authors, and Lt. Col. Shane Kimbrough, an Army astronaut assigned to the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command. Kimbrough signed autographs at the SMDC/ARSTRAT exhibit area during the conference.

Kimbrough graduated from West Point in 1989 and was an Apache helicopter pilot before being selected for the astronaut corps by NASA in 2004. He completed his first space flight in November 2008 as a member of the STS-126 Endeavour. During that flight, he logged 15 days, 20 hours, 29 minutes and 37 seconds in space and completed two space walks.

"I always wanted to become an astronaut as a kid. I grew up watching man on the moon," Kimbrough said. "But when I was chosen for an appointment to West Point, I thought the dream was gone."

His Army career took him to Operation Desert Storm, where he served with the 24th Infantry Division as an Apache attack helicopter platoon leader, aviation liaison officer and attack helicopter battalion operations officer. He also commanded an Apache helicopter company and a regimental headquarters company while assigned to the 229th Aviation Regiment at Fort Bragg, N.C., and served as an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at West Point.

Along the way, Kimbrough had a chance meeting with a fellow Army aviation officer who was also an astronaut.

"He made me realize I can actually do this thing," he said. "So, I headed down that path knowing that my chances were slim."

But Kimbrough's Army operational experience along with his achievements as an Apache helicopter pilot and an Army leader made him a top candidate for the NASA astronaut corps.

"Ninety percent of us are aviators and we have flown in tough situations," Kimbrough said. "That experience and our training make it easier for us to adapt to the harsh and austere environment of space."

Besides his military experience, Kimbrough had other things to offer NASA. Knowing how to react in worst case scenarios, leading others and "knowing how to be a good follower when you are not in charge" are all skills NASA is looking for in its astronauts, he said.

He encouraged anyone interested in the astronaut corps to pursue their dream, but to not focus all their efforts on that one goal.

"I planned my career on not getting selected. You need to do what you like to do and maybe NASA will work out for you," he said. "A master's degree in math, science or engineering may open the door to NASA or give you another exciting career. You need to set yourself up for success even if you don't make it as an astronaut."

Among SMD conference highlights was the awarding of the Air, Space and Missile Defense Association Loretta Spencer Scholarship to six college students. The scholarship recipients are studying engineering or a hard science related to space and missile defense. The scholarship was named after Spencer in recognition of her efforts to encourage the education of youth in science and engineering, and in recognition of her financial support for the ASMDA scholarship fund.

This year's recipients of the $4,000 scholarships are: Christopher Peterson, a junior at Syracuse University majoring in aerospace engineering; Amber Kaderbek, a junior at the University of Alabama majoring in chemical engineering; Paul Bisso, an engineer with the Missile Defense Agency pursuing a master's in physics from the University of Alabama-Huntsville; Jesus Ortega Mares Jr., a senior mechanical engineering student at the University of Alabama; Christopher Romanczuk, a junior at Rice University majoring in chemical and bio-molecular engineering; and Robert Woods, a junior at Auburn University majoring in chemistry.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16