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For Release: August 4, 1999
Keith Henson Reflects on 38 years as NASA Engineer/Manager
Growing up in Dothan, Ala., Keith Hensons life was about hunting and fishing, delivering the Dothan Eagle newspaper on his bicycle, tinkering with old motor scooters, and playing basketball and baseball.
His father was an office manager with a meat packing company, his mother an elementary school teacher. Henson appeared to be headed toward a career in veterinary medicine until Russias Sputnik satellite went into orbit. As it did for a lot of other teen-agers, Sputnik captured Hensons imagination -- and decided his career.
Hensons career at NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., has spanned the Saturn moon rocket program, the Skylab space station program and the Space Shuttle program.
It was all "beyond my wildest imagination," Henson reminisced recently. No doubt his biggest challenge and responsibility was heading the Shuttles Reusable Solid Rocket Motor program. For the last 60 Space Shuttle missions, Hensons "go or no-go" was among those required to clear the Shuttle for launch.
That job has come with a lot of satisfaction, a lot of responsibility and the weight of making that decision every time, Henson said.
"In this job, youve got to weigh everything your experts tell you and communicate that accurately to the Shuttle program, to NASA and to the public," he said. "Youve got to explain it so the whole world understands you, and youve got to be able to answer every question put to you. Its tremendously satisfying when you succeed at those challenges."
Henson retired recently from NASA after a distinguished career of nearly 38 years with the nations space program. Born in Nashville in 1939, Henson grew up in Dothan. He received a bachelors degree in aeronautical engineering from Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., in 1961, and a masters degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 1970.
He began his professional career in 1961 as an aeronautical engineer at the Marshall Center. In 1974, he was assigned to the Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster Project Management Office. He managed the boosters parachute recovery system from 1980 to 1985, then served as the projects business manager.
In 1986, Henson was assigned as Systems and Requirements manager to the Solid Rocket Motor Redesign Project. He served as technical assistant to the manager of the motor project in 1988, and in 1989 was named deputy manager of the project. Since 1991, Henson has been manager of the motor project.
The motor -- one of three major propulsion elements of NASAs Space Shuttle -- is the worlds largest solid propellant motor. Henson was responsible for the budgeting, scheduling, engineering, testing, facilities and launch operations associated with the motor. The project is critical to safe operation of the nations space program. It involves more than 100 NASA employees and more than 2,000 industry employees through the motors prime contract.
Awards Henson has received during his career include the NASA Medal for Exceptional Service in 1988 for his contributions to the redesign of the Shuttle Solid Rocket Motor, NASAs Outstanding Leadership Medal in 1993, and NASAs Distinguished Service Medal in 1999.
Henson and his wife, the former Martha Howell of Rogersville, Ala., live in Madison, Ala. They have five children Kerri, Katherine, Mike, Mark and Debbie. His father, Victor, and his stepmother, Virginia, longtime residents of Louisville, Ala. and Dothan, currently live in Dothan.
For Henson, the payoff for his work was being at the core of the nations space program. He recalls meetings with Dr. Wernher von Braun -- Marshall Centers first director and leader of the team that developed the Redstone and Saturn rockets -- and being on a first-name basis with astronauts and top NASA officials.
"Youre really a part of history," he said. "Thats what a NASA career has as its heart and soul. I dont think I could have done anything else and been any more satisfied."
Note to Editors/News Directors: Interviews with Henson, photos and video supporting this release are available to media representatives by contacting June Malone of the Marshall Media Relations Department at (256) 544-0034. For an electronic version of this release, digital images or more information, visit Marshalls News Center on the Web at:
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