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Ozone Park astronaut to be on first shuttle since Columbia

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Charles Camarda, 53, a graduate of Archbishop Molloy High School in Jamaica, will be one of seven astronauts who will be taking the first flight since 2003 when the space shuttle Columbia broke up re-entering the earth's atmosphere, killing all seven aboard. Camarda is set to take off in May aboard the Discovery where he will put to use his education as an aerospace engineer while manning the ship's robotic arm."Being an astronaut has always been on my mind," Camarda said in a NASA interview. "I loved space and science and the Mercury 7 astronauts were my heroes when I was a kid."Camarda's parents, Ray and Jack Camarda, still live in Ozone Park and are looking forward to their son's trip, albeit with a hint of the ever-present parental concern."I'm excited and deeply proud," said his mother, Ray Camarda. "But I also worry like any mother would."Camarda said her son was always a good student and was interested in space travel at a young age after watching unmanned rockets launched on Long Island with an uncle of his."He came back after seeing that and talked about it all the time," said Ray. "He was a busy little boy who studied hard all the time."Camarda's father said he shared his wife's sentiments."I feel very excited for and happy for him," said Jack Camarda. "You worry a bit, but I always try to think positive." Camarda began his career with NASA 30 years ago as a research assistant when he worked on space shuttle-related projects after graduating from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in 1974 with a degree in aerospace engineering. He continued his education throughout his career, earning his master's degree in engineering science from George Washington University in 1980 and a doctorate in aerospace engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1990. He and his wife Melinda Miller have four children and live Houston.Camarda is scheduled to take off from Cape Canaveral for his two-week journey, something that his parents will not miss."We're going down a couple of days before," said Ray. "And we'll be back when he lands." Reach reporter Peter A. Sutters Jr. by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 173.

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