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Profiles In Badassery: Roy D. Bridges

I have taken a few shots at Iowa this week in an effort to get a movement behind the Trophy Of Badassery idea from yesterday. They, in turn, fired a few shots back. In one of my comments to their response I mentioned that we practically run NASA, so if their undead clones of Nile Kinnick survive the nuclear winter we want to level Iowa City with, we can just leave the planet.

It turns out I was right, we do run NASA. Alumnus Roy D. Bridges Jr. is the former Director of NASA's Langley Research Center, and an Air Force badass that certainly still has enough pull with the program to save us all in case of a dire emergency (say rampaging clones of Kinnick) should be need it. He is also one hell of a pilot in his own right.

Early Life

Bridges came to us from Gainesville, GA, where he graduated from high school in 1961. He was an active Boy Scout, but his only flaw is that he did not finish his Eagle Scout award. This appears to be the only area of his life where he ever came up short. After high school he decided to enroll at the US Air Force Academy. He would become a distinguished graduate of the Academy, earning a bachleor's degree of engineering science in 1965.

As the Air Force often does when they are looking for their best and brightest to improve their engineering skills, they sent Bridges to Purdue to earn a Master's degree. Since we're totally awesome at engineering we were only glad to accept. It took him only a year at Purdue to earn a Master of science degree in astronautics. This was during an era when the space race was at the forefront of American society. The military and NASA wanted only the best since we were racing the Russians to the moon. Bridges was more than happy to help another alum get there first.

NASA and Military Career

Over the next 20 years Bridges would work with the Air Force in close conjunction with NASA. He eventually rose all the way to the rank of brigadier general. At one time he was the head of the Air Force Test Flight Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He was also the commander of the Eastern Space and Missile Center as well as 5510th Test Wing at Edwards.

Bridges has long been in charge of things that are loud and fast. Many of the test pilots that eventually become astronauts often go through the test pilot training program out in California. One of my closest high school friends, Captain Roman Underwood, is out there right now going through the test flight program. It is a rigorous course that forces the human body through some of the most difficult challenges we can throw at it.

Eventually, Bridges decided that commanding these places wasn't enough. Like any true badass, he flew many of the planes himself and he wanted to head into space. He was accepted as a member of the 1980 NASA Group and was named pilot of Space Shuttle Challenger on STS-51F.

Shuttle Mission

Bridges' shuttle mission was just the 19th flight in the shuttle program's history and eighth of the Shuttle Challenger. Its primary function as Spacelab 2, an orbital lab module that allowed for certain scientific experiments in space. This mission test a number of functions in the Spacelab module and was deemed a success.

Among other highlights of the mission:

The flight marked the first time the ESA Instrument Pointing System (IPS) was tested in orbit. This unique pointing instrument was designed with an accuracy of one arcsecond. Initially, some problems were experienced when it was commanded to track the Sun, but a series of software fixes were made and the problem was corrected.

In addition, Tony England became the second amateur radio operator to transmit from space during the mission.

The Spacelab Infrared Telescope (IRT) was also flown on the mission.The IRT was a 15.2 cm aperture helium-cooled infrared telescope, observing light between wavelengths of 1.7 to 118 μm.The experiment experienced some problems, such as heat emissions from the Shuttle corrupting data, but still returned useful astronomical data.

Director of NASA

According to his official biography, Bridges became Director of the Langley Research Center in August of 2003:

As the senior management official of the laboratory employing approximately 2,100 civil service and 1,800 contractor personnel, Bridges was responsible for the Center's aeronautical and space research programs, as well as facilities, personnel, and administration. He was also an advisor to the NASA Administrator on Agency programs.

Bridges came to Langley in 2003 after serving as Director of NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for over six years. In that capacity, he was responsible for managing facilities and activities related to the processing and launch of the Space Shuttle, processing and integration of Shuttle payloads and those aboard Expendable Launch Vehicles (ELVs), as well as final tests and preparation of elements delivered to the International Space Station via Shuttle. He was also responsible for managing the acquisition and launch of all NASA ELV missions.

Bridges retired in 2005, and has received multiple honors throughout his career. He was the top graduate in his class at Test Pilot's school, so flying the Shuttle was probably pretty easy for him. He has earned the distinguished flying cross with two oak leaf clusters, award for "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight, subsequent to November 11, 1918." The two oak leaf clusters means he has earned the award three times total.

General Bridges is clearly a badass that can do just about anything with any type of aircraft. For almost 50 years he has been one of the best pilots that the U.S. Military can train, so much so that they have asked him repeatedly to train others. It is with pride that Purdue was able to hone his skills for a year and make him just another legendary alumnus in his field.