Like any good son, Discovery astronaut Charles Camarda called home just before launch to express his love.
“I told him: ‘I love you too, but be careful,’” said his 80-year-old mother, Ray Camarda. “What else would a mother say? It was like he was going to cross the street alone for the first time.”
The 53-year-old astronaut is one of seven aboard Discovery, which thundered into orbit Tuesday in the first shuttle flight since the Columbia disaster 2½ years ago. Adding to his mother’s tension was NASA’s decision to suspend further shuttle flights after a piece of foam insulation fell during liftoff.
“I’m an old-fashioned Italian mom,” Ray Camarda said. “I have everybody in the world praying for him.”
She and her husband, Jack, a retired butcher, stay glued to the television set watching the NASA channel at their home in the borough of Queens, monitoring every moment of Discovery’s trip.
On Thursday, their son beamed home a surprise message to his father. “Hi Dad,” he scribbled on a paper held up for the onboard cameras.
Before liftoff, Camarda said his daughter, three stepchildren and wife don’t frighten as easily as his mother — who he said might need Valium to get through.
He holds a doctorate in aerospace engineering and is one of the oldest first-time space fliers ever. But he was hooked on space from about the age of 7, his mother said. His uncle took the youngster to work with him one day to the Grumman plant on Long Island, where the first lunar landing craft was made.
“He came home all excited and said, ‘That’s what I am going to do. I am going to go up in a rocket,”’ his mother recalled. “I just said, ’Sure honey, anything you want.”