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FEATURE
An Angel Watches Over

07.29.05

On July 20, 1969, nine-year-old Angel Otero sat at the foot of his parents' bed in their Bayamon, Puerto Rico home. It was hours past his bed time, but his eyes were wide open and glued to the 12-inch, black-and-white television. The moment he saw Neil Armstrong take "one small step" from the Lunar Module to the Moon's surface, the boy knew one day he would work for NASA.

"That night, I went outside and stared up at the moon," Otero said. "I couldn't fathom the idea that a man was up there standing on it. I couldn't believe NASA did that."

Today, Otero knows first-hand what the Agency that put humans on the Moon is capable of accomplishing. As Chief of the Space Operations Division at NASA's Glenn Research Center, he oversaw the Center's contributions to the Space Shuttle's Return to Flight.

Otero and reporter at press briefing He sees the space program as the modern-day equivalent of Columbus sailing to the new world. "We need to keep moving forward," he said. "We need to keep exploring and wondering what else could be out there."

Image left: Otero uses a model of the Shuttle to show a member of the press how Glenn engineers contributed to the effort to make the Shuttles safer. Credit: NASA

In 2003, when the Glenn Research Center needed a project manager for its efforts to help return the Space Shuttle to flight, Otero was the obvious choice. It seemed he had spent his whole life preparing for the role. Otero came from a family of civil engineers, and the smell of ammonia still brings back vivid memories of his uncle's velum blueprints.

"My mom always said I would be an engineer," he recalled. "When I was 7, she bought me a race track for Christmas, and my uncles couldn't figure out how to put it together. The directions were written in English, so I couldn't read them yet. But I figured out how to do it."

Like most mothers, Mrs. Otero was right. He went on to major in mechanical engineering at the University of Puerto Rico and interviewed with the Kennedy Space Center as soon as he graduated in 1982.

Otero started his NASA career as a test engineer for Spacelab, a European and American research laboratory that fit inside the Shuttle's payload bay. He supported several Spacelab missions, including Spacelab 1 and 2 and ASTRO-1. And in 1985, the German Space Agency invited him to Munich to support Spacelab D-1.

"It was a great experience for me," Otero said. "I learned how to write procedures, and I learned the importance of sticking to a schedule."

He went on to support the Atlas-Centaur and Shuttle-Centaur programs until family life brought him to Glenn (then Lewis Research Center) in Cleveland, Ohio.

Otero and son at Space Camp In all, Otero served 14 years as a project manager before taking on Glenn's Return to Flight efforts, and the experience was invaluable. More than 200 NASA Glenn employees worked to help return the Space Shuttle to flight. From the wind tunnel to the ballistic impact lab, Otero kept their projects running smoothly.

When Discovery lifted off on July 26, he stood in the NASA Glenn Visitor Center surrounded by Glenn employees, local citizens and their children.

Image right: Otero and his son, Alex, pose for a picture at Camp Kennedy Space Center in 2001. Alex wrote a note to his dad in the bottom right corner of this photo. Credit: NASA

"It was a great feeling to see those kids and the excitement on their faces," he said. "Those are future NASA workers."

Thirty-six years after Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin inspired a generation, children still dream of going to the Moon, and Otero is still shooting for the stars.

"My son Alex wants to go to the Air Force Academy and become an astronaut," Otero said. "He promised to take me to space someday."


Jan Wittry (SGT, Inc.)
NASA's Glenn Research Center

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