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Columbia City High School
Alumni Association

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Columbia City, Indiana 46725

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Dawn Smith Meyer Reflects Upon Her NASA Career

 

 The Post & Mail August 2, 2011

First Launch

By Robin Plasterer

 

CAPE Canaveral ~ As the world watched history unfold with the swan song Space Shuttle voyage recently, one local woman, who'd been a part of the monumental program since its inaugural flight nearly three decades ago, witnessed the closing of a chapter in her life she will not soon forget.

For 28 years a Columbia City native has worked in the shuttle program.  Dawn (Smith) Meyer graduated from Columbia City Joint High School in 1978.

"Here is what I posted on Facebook July 22 after I signed my layoff paperwork when I posted the pictures of us at the final landing of Atlantis:

At 8 a.m. this morning I ended a 28-1/2-year career with the space program.  It has been an amazing journey in a phenomenal chapter of history.  I'll miss the shuttle and all the people I shared this phase of my life with.  It wasn't always easy, but, as a friend said, we made it look easy.  True, many times we did.  Thanks to all those who shared it with me ... I wouldn't have missed it for the world." she said.

She is a software engineer with United Space Alliance that is a contractor with NASA in Cape Canaveral, Fla.  Meyer was one of 1,400 who were laid off after the final shuttle, Atlantis, landed in late July.  The space shuttle's orbiter sends information in code.  Meyer's job is to translate it so NASA can read it and make sure the electrical system is working properly.  She also makes sure NASA engineers' web pages are working properly. 

She wanted to be an astronaut since she was very young. 

"I was fascinated with space and the possibility of visiting other planets and races of beings," said Meyer.

After graduating from CCJHS, she went to college at IPFW.  After that she received her master’s degree from Florida Institute of Technology. 

In 1983, she began working on the space shuttles.  She witnessed 129 of the 135 launches.

"The launches are always amazing.  They are so powerful," she said.  She has been in the cockpit of shuttles and on the launching pad. The height of the shuttle is 295'.

"When I got my job on the space shuttle team as a software engineer, I applied right away to be an astronaut.  I was rejected because I did not have a master's degree or a doctorate.  I completed my masters, but unfortunately it became apparent to me that my equilibrium was not going to allow me to be an astronaut, so I just settled in with my software engineer job supporting the program," said Meyer.

She first started working at the Kennedy Space Center for Computer Science Corporation in March 1983. Her first launch was Challenger STS-6 on April 4,1983.

In November 1983, Lockheed took over the contract, so Meyer was transferred to them. Then in 1996 United Space Alliance (USA) took over the contract and she has transferred to them.

She has met a lot of people in her career:

"I've seen numerous astronauts, getting autographs, shaking hands and getting my picture taken with them, including John Young and Bob Crippen from STS-1 and Sally Ride from STS-7 the first female United States astronaut,” she said.

Meyer has attended presentations by President Bill and Hilary Clinton and shook their hands too.  She also met former Vice President Dan Quayle, Bill Nelson, Florida senator and Florida governors Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush.

What does Meyer see when she looks out into space?

“I see the vastness of the cosmos and realize how small each piece is compared to the whole.

And I realize how precious this planet is and how important it is to take care of it and live in harmony with it, not try to bend it to our will,” said Meyer.

“Every launch I have watched was incredible.  STS-26 our return flight after the Challenger accident (which was STS-51L) was an incredible experience because there was so much enthusiasm and pride behind returning us to space.  We climbed on top of our office to watch.  There was so much elation because we had recovered from such a stunning blow and got flying again,” she said.

There was obviously some very sad times in the space program.

The saddest event would have to be watching the destruction of Challenger during her launch and then again when Columbia was destroyed on reentry.  Both were just devastating and heart-wrenching experiences," said Meyer.

She wrote an article on the Challenger explosion about a year after it happened.

Her closing lines were “We lost a lot that cold January morning.  We lost seven brilliant people.  We lost our trust in the space program. We lost our innocence, but most of all...We lost our faith in our dreams.  We have never recovered." she concluded.

Her husband, George, didn't get laid off.  He is working on NASA's 21st Launch Complex project.

Now that she is laid off she doesn't know what the future holds.

“The space program has been my career. I'm thinking something more spiritual, something more related to the environment, which still may involve my computer and web development skills," she said.

Meyer hopes the space program picks up and she has a feeling it will.

NASA's space program has given much to our world.

"It's given the world a lot of spin-offs like memory foam, dust busters, freeze-dried food, etc.," she said.

For a complete list go to NASA'swebsite, http://www.sti.nasa.gov/ tto and Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_spin-off.

"But I think it also gave us a spirit of adventure and exploration as well as a challenge to do something extraordinary," she said.

Meyer shared the words of Commander Chris Ferguson that he used during the final Atlantis lift-off.

"Hey, thanks to you and your team, and until the very end, you all made it look easy.  The shuttle's always going to be a reflection of what a great nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through.  'We're not ending the journey today, we're completing a chapter of a journey that will never end.  You and the thousands of men and women who gave their hearts, souls and their lives to the cause of exploration.  Let's light this fire one more time and witness this nation at its best," said Ferguson.

Meyer concludes the shuttle program gave a different perspective on the world.

'We see how small and fragmented our planet is and from orbit we can see the environmental devastation being wrought on our planet.  And hopefully it will inspire us to take better care of our ‘big blue marble’ in space,” she said.

Meyer did a shuttle tribute video for their "departure luncheon" which was the going-away party for everyone getting laid off.  You can watch it on YouTube at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0e6U5fFUA94

Meyer said there is another CCJHS graduate involved in the space program. Ralph Webber is a mechanical engineer and draftsman

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2005 Columbia City High School Alumni Association.           This page last updated 06/23/2012