Bay Area man heads to space with NASA

February 7, 2008 8:15:12 PM PST
The Shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center lifted off on a mission to the International Space Station and you may know the name of one of the astronauts.

Astronaut Rex Walheim wished his family all the best via satellite before he got on board today. If the name sounds familiar, you might have seen the marquee at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, which is also his home town. This local guy still has his heart in San Carlos. He's a 45 year-old Air Force Colonel on the Shuttle Atlantis, which lifted off on Thursday, en route to the International Space Station.

During the next several days, he will attach a new addition to the space station called Columbus.

The Columbus module is a European space lab. Attaching it is no small construction feat.

"You can't drop something, for sure, so it has to be tethered," says Karol Bobko, retired astronaut.

This will be Walheim's second mission. In 2002, he helped attach a girder to the International Space Station, spending 14 hours outside in space. This time, he will make three more spacewalks, doing difficult detail work.

"Going into space is a difficult job. NASA makes it look easy. As easy as the Olympians make their sports look," says John Allman, Shuttle program manager.

This morning's launch was flawless and it's a nice start for the kid next door -- the kid who really did grow up to be an astronaut.