Lt. col. prepares for Saturday shuttle mission
By Eric Reinagel and Al Vieira - The Star Gazette of Elmira, N.Y.
Posted : Friday Jun 12, 2009 15:40:15 EDT

When Marine Lt. Col. Doug Hurley was a student at Owego-Apalachin Middle School in upstate New York, he checked out a book on the moon. This Saturday, if all goes as scheduled, he will be flying toward it.

While many kids dream about becoming an astronaut, Hurley, at a young age, set a course to realize his dream. “For me, obviously coming from upstate New York, you don’t necessarily realize the things you can do,” said Hurley, 42.

But when the space shuttle Endeavour blasts off from Cape Canaveral — Saturday’s launch is scheduled for 7:17 a.m. — Hurley will be the pilot on a mission to deliver components to the Japanese laboratory in the International Space Station. That mission could last as long as 17 days.

Robin Seward, who taught Hurley in fifth-grade, said “He was an all-around good student.”

Seward used to tell Hurley’s mother, Sherry, that she would order a million more students like Doug. “Some day he’s going to be president,” she would tell her. “It’s so humbling to think here’s this kid you have in your class ... and now look what he’s doing.”

Seward will be part of a large contingent of local residents who will travel to Cape Canaveral, Fla., for the launch. Hurley said so many people wanted to come down for the launch, he had a hard time obtaining enough special guest passes that provide a better vantage point and certain amenities. He was allowed to invite 225 people.

“It’s just a case you meet a lot of people over the years and you want to try to take care of everybody,” said Hurley, who graduated from Owego Free Academy in 1984.

From their childhood years, there was never any doubt in Dean Hurley’s mind that his brother would become an astronaut. Dean, 40, remembers his brother’s non-stop fascination with everything space.

“We loved ‘Star Trek’; we used to watch it together ... you know, as the younger brother, you get sucked into things,” Dean Hurley recalled. “He was into ‘Battlestar Galactica.’ He built different models of ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Battlestar Galactica’ ships, and he had them hanging from string in the bedroom.”

Dean said he knew his brother would realize his goal when he became a test pilot. “That’s what he had to do to get where he wanted to go,” he said. “That’s when I knew he was going to become an astronaut.”

Long before Doug Hurley became an astronaut, his father was putting his own stamp on the shuttle program. Harvey Hurley, then working for IBM-Owego, was the manager of a project that put one of the computer systems in the first space shuttle, Columbia.

Harvey said his son, Doug, never set a goal of only becoming an astronaut — an unrealistic goal because the selection process is so limited. But that’s clearly what he wanted to become.

“You have to be good and lucky,” said Harvey Hurley. “If I look back on what he did in school, and college, and the military, he did all the right things to position himself as well as he could to be in this opportunity to be selected an astronaut.”

Doug Hurley received his commission from the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps at Tulane University in New Orleans in 1988. He entered flight training in 1989, initially as a naval aviator, but soon after, he reported for Marine fighter attack training.

Hurley has logged more than 3,200 hours in more than 22 aircraft, but a space shuttle isn’t on his resume yet. He has trained on a flight simulator and described landing a shuttle as similar to flying an airplane. (He will serve as the co-pilot during this mission’s landing.)

Although landing might be similar to flying an airplane, takeoff is a different matter.

In the best of circumstances, takeoff is controlled only by computers.

He will, however, have the opportunity to fly the Endeavour around the space station and take surveillance photos to ensure everything is intact.

Hurley said he’s also excited to have the opportunity to work a robotic arm to move payloads during a spacewalk.

There is a lot of work to accomplish in a short time frame, but Hurley also plans to appreciate the opportunity few ever experience.

“I surely hope I get a chance to look out a window a few times,” said Hurley. “The view is something you can’t describe.”