Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
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AEM spotlight:

Flight director and alumnus shares NASA experience

Paul Dye

Paul Dye spoke to AEM students and faculty Dec. 4 about his varied experiences at NASA over the past 25 years.

In the very same room as the first class in his undergraduate career in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics decades ago, NASA Flight Director Paul Dye spoke to students of space and science.

Dye, a Flight Director at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, is a 1982 alumnus and Minnesota native, growing up on the Iron Range. Dye has directed some 24 missions in his time at NASA – almost 25 years. This past September he was flight director for STS-115, the Space Shuttle Atlantis mission to deliver and install the 35,000 pound P3/P4 truss segment to the International Space Station (ISS). 

An avid pilot since the age of 13, Dye recently completed construction on his home-built aircraft, the RV-8.

In a typical mission to the ISS, Dye said, there are literally thousands of tasks and approximately nine people to perform them – six from the shuttle and three in the ISS.  The key is planning. Depending on the nature of the mission, a flight director and crew will be announced approximately one to one and a half years in advance of the flight date. 

“We’re given a vehicle, a crew, a payload, a launch date, and are told to come back when we’re done,” Dye said.

Because of intensive and regular training, astronauts, ground crew, and mission controllers alike are better prepared for the unforeseen.   This is, in part due to the complexity of both the mission and the space shuttle itself, which Dye described as the fastest, highest-flying and one of the most complicated flying vehicles ever created.

Dye spoke to the students about the importance of hands-on, practical experience, as well as a solid grounding in the fundamentals of the science and engineering behind aerospace.

Paul Dye

Image credit: NASA
Pictured above is the attaching of the P3/P4 truss by STS-115 shuttle crew members on Sept. 12, 2006, under the direction of Dye.

Even with a 25,000 mile circumference – and a much larger one in orbit – it only takes about 90 minutes to orbit the Earth. It is seven minutes from the east to west coast of the United States.

With that sobering statistic, Dye left the attendees with the following:

“We are living in a valley with ridges on either side. I can’t tell you why we have to climb out of the valley, but I can tell you if we don’t, this valley is all we’ll ever know.”

And that, Dye said, does not satisfy.

To learn more about the Minnesota Space Grant Consortium, please visit:

For more on the STS-115 shuttle mission, visit the following site:

Read a transcript featuring Paul Dye six days before he served as flight director for the last Mir mission.

Learn more about Dye's home-built plane, the RV-8:

Last Modified: Monday, 14-Mar-2016 11:33:52 CDT -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation