CAPE GIRARDEAU - Cape Girardeau County native Dr. Linda Godwin is preparing to fly to the International Space Station - the first shuttle launch since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and NASA officials say security will be far greater than previous shuttle flights.
The STS-108 mission, which launches Thursday, will be Godwin's fourth spaceflight. She worked for NASA as a member of the mission control team for five years before she was selected as an astronaut in 1985.
Her father, Jackson resident James Godwin, said he planned to leave today for Cape Canaveral, Fla., and be there for a pre-launch barbecue with his daughter as well as the launch. Even after watching his daughter go into space three other times, he expects to be nervous.
"I am always glad when they get up into orbit, that they're that far," he said. "It doesn't mean nothing could go wrong after that, but I feel better. It takes eight minutes to get into orbit, and that is a stressful eight minutes."
Linda Godwin's first spaceflight was STS-37 in 1991, when she deployed the heaviest scientific spacecraft ever built, the Gamma Ray Observatory. Her second spaceflight was an 11-day mission in 1994 to test a large radar antenna mounted in the shuttle's cargo bay.
The trips gained the Jackson High School graduate the respect and admiration of fellow astronauts. Dr. Jay Apt flew with Godwin on her first two spaceflights.
"Linda is one of the most well prepared folks to ever fly on the space shuttle," he said. "She is an excellent pilot - flown everything from ultralights to jets. She works very well on mechanical equipment, she's a better car mechanic than what most people ever pay for. ..."
"We had a real good time both times we flew, enjoyed it tremendously."
Shortly before her third spaceflight in 1996, Godwin married Steve Nagel, her commander on her first shuttle mission.
"That was a good thing for me, that's been great," she said. "He's been really supportive through this and really helping out. He understands, because he's been through it - what this is all about."
The STS-76 mission featured the delivery of astronaut Shannon Lucid to the Russian space station Mir. It also marked Godwin's first spacewalk.
She and astronaut Rich Clifford put several exposure experiments on the Mir's exterior and remained at that space station for a year.
After the STS-76 mission, Godwin resumed her non-flying astronaut duties at NASA as a manager helping support other shuttle missions. Her personal life also featured a major change: a child. At age 47, Godwin gave birth to daughter Lauren. In addition, she's the stepmother to a 12-year-old daughter from her husband's previous marriage.
Godwin doesn't look on having a child in her 40s as anything unusual.
"I still don't really feel like I'm grown up, it's just when it happened for me," she said. "If you had a choice in life, I probably would have done it sooner, but I wouldn't have passed up doing it now for anything. It's an experience I'm really glad I'm having."
She acknowledges that having a family has changed her life.
"Instead of sitting down and catching up on the work I've brought home, I just have to put it off until a little later," she said. "But it's nice to come home and have that supportive environment."
Dr. Godwin's responsibilities on her present mission include operating the shuttle's robot arm to move a large cargo canister from the shuttle's cargo bay over to the space station and being the lead spacewalker.
Godwin and fellow crewmember Dan Tani will wrap a pair of insulating covers around two motors, similar to putting an insulating cover on a water heater.
The STS-108 launch is scheduled for at 6:44 p.m. In memory of those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the shuttle will carrying an American flag recovered from the rubble at the World Trade Center, a Marine Corps flag recovered from the Pentagon, a U.S. flag from Pennsylvania and badges for the New York police and fire department. In addition, 6,000 small commemorative U.S. flags will be carried later distributed to the families of those who died as a result of the attacks.