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INCOMING ODU STUDENT ENJOYS ASTRONAUT FATHER'S FAME

When Chelsea Camarda matriculates at Old Dominion University later this month, she may look familiar to many of the other 2,000 students in the Class of 2009.

For a whirlwind two weeks in late July and early this month, while her father, Charles Camarda, was gaining international celebrity as a NASA astronaut on the Discovery mission, his 18-year-old daughter was in the middle of a media blitz right here on Earth.

She was interviewed early in the space mission by a Hampton Roads TV news reporter. This led to video interviews on CNN news July 29, on NBC's "Today" show July 30 and on ABC's "Good Morning America" July 31. Newspaper stories and several more local TV appearances followed before she went through another round of interviews with ABC, Fox, and CNN at Kennedy Space Center the morning (Aug. 9) of the shuttle's return. She had been in Florida for the return, but ended up watching the landing on television after threatening weather caused the shuttle to be diverted to California.

The landing switch was more than a personal disappointment. It took some excitement out of her reports as a special space mission correspondent for a Hampton Roads radio station.

Chelsea and other astronauts' family members were flown to Houston just a few hours after the shuttle's landing for a homecoming with the Discovery flight crew. "It will be a great homecoming," she said by telephone from Houston as she was awaiting her father's arrival from California.

She said she was not fearful during the Discovery's descent. Her concern about damage to the craft from launch debris "lasted about two hours from the time I heard," she explained. Her father sent her regular e-mails during the mission (she got 13 e-mails from space and one telephone call) and "he reassured me that this (foam damage) was no big deal. The media made more of it than they should have because of the Columbia accident. I trust NASA," she added. "In my position, you have to."

The media attention she got made her feel as if she were a part of the mission, she said. "It seemed like I was as busy as my father."

"She's handled herself extremely well," said stepfather Sonny Morris. Chelsea lives with Morris and her mother, Sabrina Martin, in Virginia Beach. "When the young man from the "Today" show called to set up an interview, he said he had seen her on CNN and told her she came across as a pro on television," Morris recalled.

Morris also said that Chelsea was not at all awestruck by the attention. "A reporter asked if he could have a copy of an e-mail Charlie sent her, and she said, 'No!' The "Today" show had it all worked out how they wanted to do the interview. They were going to send a car and take her somewhere, but she said, 'No! If you want to interview me, you come to my house."

"She's so proud of her father, but she has been concerned, too. She said she couldn't wait till he gets his feet back on Earth."

Chelsea, who plans to study fashion design and merchandizing at ODU, modeled in fashion shows while she was a student at Cox High School. She said the modeling experience, plus the fact that she has "always been a talker," helped her feel comfortable during the media interviews.

Camarda, 53, was a research scientist at NASA Langley in Hampton, before qualifying as an astronaut. The Discovery mission was his first. His specialty is thermodynamics, and he has made contributions toward improvements in shuttle heat shields.

"While he was at Langley he made friends with engineers on the faculty at ODU," Chelsea said. The Camarda connection to ODU also involves Chelsea's chosen field. She was introduced by a Cox High School teacher to Sharon Davis, who teaches fashion design and coordination as an ODU lecturer in occupational and technical studies.

This article was posted on: August 12, 2005

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