Jan Davis, a former astronaut based in Huntsville, will be the special speaker at Anniston First United Methodist Church on Sunday at the 10:30 a.m. worship service.
Davis flew on the Space Shuttle three times in the 1990s, logging more than 673 hours in space and orbiting Earth 445 times, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.
She was born in 1953 in Florida but grew up in Huntsville. She joined NASA in 1979, and retired in 2005. She continues to work with a NASA contractor at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.
She is a member of Monte Sano United Methodist Church in Huntsville, where Dale Clem used to be pastor before becoming pastor at Anniston First Methodist.
Clem recently talked to Davis for an article in the church newsletter. Here are some highlights from that conversation:
Did you dream of being an astronaut when you were young?
When I was a young girl, there were no women astronauts. All astronauts were male military test pilots, so I didn’t think it was possible.
When did you first consider becoming an astronaut?
The first group of women was selected in 1978 for the Space Shuttle, a reusable spacecraft which was first launched in 1981. I was already out of college by then and working in Texas for an oil company. I began working for NASA in 1979. In 1980, NASA chose another group of astronauts and I went to graduate school hoping to apply. I applied for the next class in 1984, and although I was interviewed that year, I wasn’t accepted until my third attempt in 1987.
Tell us about your space flights.
My first shuttle mission, STS-47 in 1992, was on the Endeavour, and we flew Spacelab on the Space Shuttle and conducted 43 life science and material science experiments. We orbited the earth 126 times in our eight-day mission. My second flight in 1994 was on the Space Shuttle Discovery, and we were the first mission to have a Russian cosmonaut on board. On this mission, called STS-60, I was responsible for operating the Wake Shield Facility and the Space Habitation Module. In 1997, I was the payload commander for my final flight, STS-85, on the Discovery shuttle for a 12-day mission. I deployed and retrieved the CRISTA-SPAS payload and operated the Japanese robotic arm as well as did experiments in astronomy and sciences.
After your flights, what work did you do at NASA?
I worked on a variety of projects, including directing the payloads for flights to the International Space Station. After the Columbia accident, I was named head of Safety and Mission Assurance and oversaw the safe return to flight of the Space Shuttle. Right now, I am the program manager for Safety and Mission Assurance to make sure that what work is being done at NASA is safe and successful. I work at a contractor called Bastion Technologies.
What is going on at NASA now?
About a month ago, Vice President Pence came to Huntsville and announced that we will be going to the moon in 2024. We will send people to orbit the moon first, and then land on the moon and stay for months at a time. Through having persons stay on the moon for long durations, we will learn how to sustain life. The program is called Artemis (the sister of Apollo).
What is the rocket system that will take us to the moon?
We have been designing and testing the Space Launch System, which is the most powerful rocket we have ever built. It is being managed and engineered at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, but contractors are building the rocket in different places. The first launch will take place in 2020.
What have you done in the church that has been significant?
Thirteen years ago, we started a Lunar Communion around July 20 each year at Monte Sano United Methodist Church. This year was the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing.