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Shuttle pilot tied to Whidbey

The pilot of the space shuttle Discovery that rocketed into orbit Tuesday morning has ties to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

Marine Corp. Col. George D. Zamka graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1984 and then was trained on the A-6E Intruder at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, according to a NASA biography cited by the Marine Corps Times.

Zamka eventually flew 66 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm. He went on to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School and served as an F/A-18 Hornet test pilot and operations officer.

Zamka is part of a seven-member Space Shuttle crew. Mission STS-120 began on-time with a brilliant launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 11:38 a.m. EDT Tuesday.

Space shuttle Discovery and its crew are carrying the Harmony module to the International Space Station and will connect the segment during a planned 14-day flight. The module will serve as a hub for future laboratory modules.

The astronauts will also maneuver a segment of solar arrays already on the station to a new position at one end of the central truss.

The Discovery is scheduled to return to Earth Nov. 7.

Another astronaut with Whidbey ties, Cmdr. William C. McCool, perished in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. McCool was a former Prowler pilot with the VAQ-133 Wizards.

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