From the Thursday, April 15 2010 Indianapolis Star:
Perry Meridian grad will be busy for final shuttle flight
Lauren Rush is on firm ground when she encourages women to pursue careers in engineering.
Rush is a flight controller at NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston, rising from a solid foundation that included participation on a Perry Meridian High School robotics team and an industrial engineering degree from Purdue University.
Employed at Mission Control since January 2006, Rush, 26, has worked her way up in several positions in shuttle-flight planning to her current flight-controller specialty of flight-activities officer.
In that role, Rush will be the lead planner for the final space-shuttle flight, a launch of Discovery set for Sept. 16. The launch will be the 134th in the history of the space-shuttle program, which began in 1981.
Flight-activities officers plan and support shuttle crew activities and plan and manage the shuttle’s orientation in space.
From launch to landing of each manned space shuttle at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Mission Control in Houston is responsible for the shuttle and its crew.
In her current mission, Rush is among three flight-activities officers working in round-the-clock shifts since Discovery was launched April 5 with four men and three women astronauts in a two-week mission to the International Space Station. The shuttle is scheduled to land in Florida on Monday.
“I work the shift where the (shuttle) crew is asleep,” Rush said of her work on the current shuttle mission. She said she analyzes how the astronauts’ previous workday went and how best to arrange their activities for the new day.
“This is my 17th mission overall and my fifth mission as a flight-activities officer,” Rush said.
While planning for the shuttle’s last launch in September, Rush also is scheduled to be a guest lecturer in the fall at a Women in Engineering Seminar at Purdue.
The percentage of women in engineering in comparison to men still is less than 20 percent, she said.
“One of my interests is making those numbers bigger,” she said. “I’d love to see 50-50 percent.”
At Mission Control, she said, “There is a good mixture of men and women as far as flight controllers.”
Rush’s mother, Sara Ritter, Greenwood, said she is not surprised her daughter has “done so much and gotten so far.”
Her daughter was an avid reader at an early age, played with Legos and had the interest to learn detail and discipline in playing the violin and cooking, Ritter said.
“She was very shy growing up. She was a bookworm,” she said.
Rush became interested in robotics at Perry Meridian, from which she graduated in 2001. The school’s robotics team participated in the national FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) competition.
Robotics fueled her interest in engineering, and a trip to the Kennedy Space Center while in high school as part of the robotics program eventually launched her interest in NASA.
“There was a mission statement that talked about endeavors – discovering science beyond what we do on Earth,” she said. “That inspired something in me to work for NASA.”
She was back at Kennedy Space Center in November, where she got to watch a shuttle launch up close for the first time in her life. She earned that opportunity by receiving a NASA international award for her work in Mission Control as lead timeline officer for a July 2009 shuttle flight.
While the shuttle program will come to an end late this year, Rush said future missions to the space station will be through Russian launches of Soyuz capsules.
She said she is certified for continuing flight planning at Mission Control to work with Russian planners for Soyuz flights and for astronauts who are on the space station.
“There may be other programs in store,” Rush said.