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Sam Gemar, Astronaut MAG
Sam has laughing blue eyes and a ready smile. Talking to him, you soon sense his love of life, family and simple pleasures. His two children and wife are the center of his being and his home reflects all their interests. On the hearth are two neatly printed letters to Santa. There's a playhouse in his back yard, a pool and a creek for fishing. Further back in the woods is a place to camp, complete with a fire pit. Across the road is a pasture where Sam drives his "Green Acres" tractor, as he calls it. Standing on his deck, he calls attention not so much to the lovely landscape and countryside but more often to the stars. These stars have been a part of Sam's dream. While he loves Earth, the stars gave Sam his goals and direction.
Charles D. "Sam" grew up in the small town of Scotland, South Dakota. When he was young, his best friend was also named Charles - to avoid confusion, his friend's grandparents nicknamed him Sam and the name stuck. Sam is a retired astronaut (Latin for "star explorer"). He has logged over 580 hours in space and was a mission specialist on three Shuttle missions - STS-38 (1990), STS-48 (1991) and STS-62 (1999).
Asked when he first wanted to bean astronaut, Sam responded, "Ever since I was a little kid; I always wanted to fly. That was my dream. I thought becoming an astronaut would be the ultimate flying experience. Of course, my dream seemed a little out of reach. But I always held on to it, and then, when I was in college, one of my professors convinced me my dream was truly attainable. I then set about making it come true. "
After he graduated from high school in 1973, Sam enlisted in the U. S. Army. He attended West Point Military Academy and learned to fly. Sam said, "It was easy for me to learn how to fly. I was very lucky. Many find it challenging, but to me it just came naturally. "
In June of 1985, Sam was selected by NASA for astronaut training. He completed a one-year training program and became an official astronaut in 1986. Sam said that part of the training is academic and part is experience in simulators. "Nothing you have ever done up until then has prepared you to be an astronaut. It's all new, so you're learning just like everyone else, " he said. "The training you receive is so good that there are no surprises in space. "
Sam go this chance to go into space and fulfill his childhood dream on November 15, 1990 when he and the crew of STS-38 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on the Shuttle Atlantis. This flight lasted almost five days and gave Sam his first experience. He orbited the Earth 80 times, traveling over two million miles. He commented, "The first flight is always the most exciting. " STS-38 was carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, a branch of the Department of Defense that had not been acknowledged publicly at that time.
Sam's second trip began September 12, 1991 when the Shuttle Discovery launched the 5-man crew of STS-48 into orbit. This mission lasted 5 days, 8 hours and 30 minutes, traveling approximately 2. 2 million miles. On this mission, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) was deployed, giving scientists their first complete set of data on the upper atmosphere's chemistry, winds and energy inputs. In addition, many experiments were conducted, including new medicines, the physical effects on a human body in space and radiation.
Sam's most recent and final mission was STS-62 on the Space Shuttle Columbia. This mission was just 45 minutes short of 14 days and traveled 5. 8 million miles in 224 orbits of the earth. The astronauts conducted over 60 experiments. Columbia orbited Earth at 105 nautical miles high, the lowest altitude ever flown by a shuttle. This level is difficult because of a phenomenon known as"shuttle glow, " caused by the increasing number of molecules the closer the orbit is to Earth. These molecules become more excited and give off a strange glow, bouncing off the shuttle and causing atomic erosion. STS-62 studied the effects of this erosion on the Shuttle.
After this mission, Sam retired from NASA and is now the Director of Test-Flight Operations for Bombardier in Wichita, Kansas.
Remembering his days in space, Sam says that the view of Earth is what he remembers most. "I spent hours just watching the world go by. The continents are constantly moving beneath you. On a clear day, I could see all the way from Seattle to Boston!" Sam also said that "there is a feeling of isolation. You know that you are so far away from your home that you feel kind of lonely. This can wear on you after a long time in orbit. "
There were, however, many good times in space. When asked what the goofiest thing was, he laughed and replied " My crew mates! Seriously, though, it would probably be waking up and rolling over. On Earth, we roll over to get more comfortable, but up in space there is absolutely no need for it. " Sam was able to take many pictures from space, including some of a boat's wake. He says, "It's extraordinarily clear. You don't need much magnification to get great pictures. Space food isn't too bad either, " he said, "or at least the shrimp cocktail isn't. I started almost every meal with shrimp cocktail. "
Sam also has advice for young dreamers everywhere. "Work hard toward your goal. Perseverance is key. Do what will keep you competitive, what will keep you going in the direction you want to go. The perfect goal is one that you think is just slightly beyond your grasp. Call it a guiding star, if you will. Whenever you see your goal slipping away from you, your guiding star is still there, encouraging you on to greatness. "
What makes such a fun-loving, ordinary man so extraordinary? Sam's goals pushed him to give a little extra, and that made all the difference.
Sam, standing on his back deck looking at the stars, isn't as ordinary as he may seem. He has had extraordinary adventures, extraordinary experiences and has become an extraordinary man with the ability to touch not only the stars, but our hearts as well.
Sam has many honors besides the title of retired astronaut. They include: Distinguished Graduate of his class in undergraduate pilot training, and Distinguished Graduate of his class in graduate fixed-wing and multi-engine pilot training. He was the recipient of the Defense Superior Service Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal, two National Defense Service Medals, National Intelligence Medal of Achievement, NASA Achievement medal and three NASA Space Flight Medals. He is an Honorary Doctor of Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, and holds an Honorary Chair for Membership of the South Dakota Congress of Parents and Teachers. He's a member of the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame, and recipient of South Dakota Newspaper Association 1993 Distinguished Service Award.