ALHS grad living his dream, launching space shuttles

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 13, 2002

Astronaut Jim Lovell is credited with the famous words &uot;Houston, we have a problem.&uot; The story of the Apollo 13 space shuttle mission was so dramatic, unbelievable and moving that Ron Howard made the story into a blockbuster movie.

When Lovell said those famous words, he was calling the Houston International Space Station, where Mike Lammers, 29, a graduate of Albert Lea High School, now works.

Lammers works as the flight controller through the international space station. He controls the flight paths of the space shuttles that are launched by NASA. He is not directly employed by NASA, but instead he works for United Space Alliance, which is owned by both Lockheed Martin and Boeing, who contract for NASA.

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Lammers did not grow up in Albert Lea, but lived here from age 12 through 18. &uot;I consider Albert Lea my home,&uot; he said. Lammers’ father worked for Farmstead, Inc. in Albert Lea during that time. Recently, though, the Lammers moved to Dennison, Iowa to work for the Farmland plant there. &uot;My parents are kind of meat packing refugees,&uot; he said, laughing.

Growing up, Lammers was sure at a young age of the career he would pursue. &uot;I’ve been interested in doing this since I was a little kid,&uot; Lammers said. &uot;I’ve always liked spacecraft and science and math.&uot;

Math teacher Bob Rowe and Hank Guse were two of Lammers’ biggest influences at Albert Lea High School.

&uot;Mike was one of the best I’ve had,&uot; Rowe said of Lammers. &uot;He was one of the kids that when you went through things in math class he seemed to already know everything. He was a real bright kid and a wonderful math student.&uot;

Good sentiments are mutual. &uot;I think that they were great teachers,&uot; Lammers said. &uot;They spent a lot of time with their students, they were motivated by teaching and they wanted their students to learn and do great things.&uot;

After high school Lammers enrolled in Iowa State University, Ames. After five years of intensive schooling, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and went on to NASA to begin his career.

For the past six years Lammers has been guiding shuttles through from the NASA space station in Houston.

&uot;The most exciting and amazing part of my job is when we dock the space shuttle,&uot; he said. &uot;You’re sitting there watching the television down-link from the shuttle and you’re the one driving.&uot;

The station where Lammers works, as he describes it, is much like that portrayed in the movie &uot;Apollo 13.&uot; &uot;Some of the people I work with were here when that happened,&uot; he said. &uot;Of course the technology has changed a bit since then.&uot;

Much like the movie depicts, the station is set up so that each man has a duty, but they all work together. &uot;I’m on a team. There’s a group of engineers in the control room. Each one of us has a system that they are watching over. Mine is the guidance systems.&uot;

The team focus is on problem solving. When a shuttle goes up, there are often problems. While the team is trained to work the shuttle that operates perfectly, much more of their training is dedicated to problem solving.

&uot;When things break it gets really interesting,&uot; Lammers said. &uot;They train us pretty hard for those situations, though. We’ve had a couple of them. There was one about over a year ago where we lost all the command and control computers, the brains of the shuttle, while it was up. It was a pretty difficult situation. We did figure out how to get out of that situation, but it wasn’t easy.&uot;

Lammers said he enjoys his job thoroughly, though he sometimes misses Minnesota. &uot;I don’t really miss the winters, but the summers there are spectacular,&uot; he said.

Though he now prefers the big city-life of Houston, he said he enjoyed living in Albert Lea. &uot;I thought it was great growing up there. The nice thing about it was that it is pretty and its just about the right size.&uot; he said. &uot;And you can’t beat those lakes.&uot;