May 14, 2007

Platt Tech Grad Soars As NASA Mechanic

MILFORD -- Chris Goodrich doesn't get home that often.

At age 24, as the youngest mechanic for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's space shuttle Discovery, he's had a full six years as a Florida resident.

So his return to Milford over Mother's Day weekend was special for his mom, Dawn Goodrich.

"This would be the first Mother's Day I've had all three of my children under the same roof since Chris left for Florida," Dawn Goodrich said Friday. She works as a Milford Hospital admissions supervisor.

Talking by telephone from Florida late last week, Chris Goodrich was eager to get home, noting he usually manages once-a-year visits at Thanksgiving.

"It's a dream to be working here," Goodrich said from his home in Melbourne, Fla., about a half hour away from the sprawling Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.

"Only a handful of people in the world get to do this," he added. "With NASA planning to return to the moon and go to Mars, that will be history in the making. I hope to be around for that."

At his age, he probably will be. But it's a surprising twist of fate that he ended up working on rocket engines.

As an automobile mechanics major at Platt Technical High School, where he graduated in 2000, his original dream was to work at a car dealership.

Based on test scores, Goodrich qualified for a state competition. This garnered attention from a Milford car dealer, who brought him in for a week's internship and invited Goodrich to return for a job after graduation.

"So I went back after I graduated, and they said they had no openings," Goodrich said. "I figured that was my best shot and that maybe I should try something else."

He remembered going on a field trip to the Sikorsky School of Aviation in Stratford and finding that work interesting.

So, he applied to the National Aviation Academy in Clearwater, Fla., where he could get an air frame and power plant license in less time than at Stratford.

"I remember joking with my mom when I was applying that maybe this would help me work on the space shuttle one day," he said.

Upon graduation, he stayed in Florida, first repairing commercial jets in Tampa for two years, followed by six months working on jet fighters in Clearwater.

Goodrich then got a job at the space center through an NAA friend who was already working there.

He finds the work not that much different, though the aircraft is bigger.

"It's kind of the same principle as working on planes but with more precision work, definitely more high-tech," he said.

Goodrich is among 150 technicians working on Discovery. That shuttle aircraft is among a fleet of two others, Atlantis and Endeavor.

"After each flight we take out the motors and replace them and check everything to make sure it's OK for the next flight," he said.

He noted Discovery, constructed in the mid-1980's, is getting ready for it 34th flight, probably taking place next fall.

Platt Tech Principal Gene LaPorta remembers Goodrich as an auto mechanics major. But LaPorta was not surprised Goodrich ended up with NASA.

"He was a bright kid, energetic, a real gear head, good with his hands," said LaPorta. "For someone like him, it's probably not a stretch at all to adapt to rocket engines. I anticipated when he left here he'd be a success."