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Kelly Latimer flies at the cutting edge of aviation — and soon, space

Samantha Masunaga, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

"My path here was way easier because of all the women who came before me that seriously had a hard time, had to deal with a lot more issues that I don't have to deal with at all," Latimer said. "I just have to do my job and do it the best I can."

A FORK IN THE ROAD

In 1999, Latimer was chosen to participate in astronaut selection interviews at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Though she was ultimately not selected, she passed all the necessary tests, including a physical exam and background check, and figured she would learn from this for the next time.

Several years later, while she was deployed to Afghanistan, she applied again and was chosen for an interview. However, this time, Latimer didn't pass the physical exam because of a high antibody reading in her blood -- a result "you wouldn't know unless you took the astronaut physical," she said. She said she remembered thinking at the time that after all her time and effort, "the dream is dead."

"It was pretty crushing at that moment," Latimer said.

NEW PATHS

 

After serving as commander of the 418th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base near Lancaster, Latimer deployed to Iraq, where she advised the Iraqi Air Force. But she knew she didn't want to stay in the Air Force forever. In 2007, Latimer retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel. That same year, she took a job as a research pilot with what was then known as NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. There she flew the agency's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, which is a modified 747 plane with a telescope in the back. There, she was the first female research test pilot.

Latimer later moved to Huntington Beach -- fulfilling a longtime dream of living near the ocean -- and worked for Boeing for eight years as a test pilot. In that role, she flew military and commercial planes, including the C-17, Boeing 737, 787, P-8 Poseidon naval aircraft and KC-46 tanker plane.

"I was looking for a little civilization and a life outside of work," she said.

THE LEAP INTO SPACE

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