By Mary K. Tilghman
CATONSVILLE, Md. (CNS) — When Audrey Powers went boldly into space Oct. 13 with the actor who played the original Captain Kirk on “Star Trek,” the thoughts, prayers and cheers of Mount de Sales Academy, her alma mater, went with her.
As vice president of mission and flight operations, Powers was one of four crewmembers on the second human flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket from its base in west Texas.
Actor William Shatner, 90, who sat next to Powers during the successful mission, became the oldest man to fly into space.
In Catonsville, fellow students from the class of 1994 joined other Mount de Sales alumnae, staff and faculty to watch the historic flight.
Students were unable to attend because they were taking exams, but alumnae from a 60-mile radius were invited, according to Karen de Lange, Mount de Sales’ director of communications.
“I’m here to watch my best friend go to space,” said Julie Simon Gilless. She said Powers was achieving a lifelong dream. “She always wanted to be an astronaut.”
“This is her life’s calling,” added classmate Angela Romeo, now a teacher at Mount de Sales.
The watch party, which also was streamed on Facebook Live, was held in the school’s brand new Center for Performing Arts and Student Life.
Powers, sitting in Seat Number One, flashed a “V” sign out the vehicle’s window as they drove to the rocket at about 9:45 a.m.
The ship took off about 10:30 a.m. for its 11-minute flight across the Karman Line, considered the boundary between earth’s atmosphere and outer space. It is 100 kilometers above earth’s mean sea level.
Powers, who was valedictorian as well as the “Mount de Sales Girl” of her graduating class, is Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations. The announcement of her assignment to NS-18, Blue Origin’s second human flight, was made along with the Star Trek captain’s Oct. 4.
Powers and Shatner were joined by two “customers,” Chris Boshuizen, a former NASA engineer and co-founder of Planet Labs, and Glen de Vries, vice chair of life sciences and health care at Dassault Systemes and co-founder of Medidata, according to a Blue Origin news release.
The Mount de Sales group, numbering about 30, cheered when they heard Powers’ name as she climbed the tower to enter the rocket and again when she rang the ceremonial bell just after Shatner — and they cheered just about every time her name was mentioned or she appeared on screen.
While at Mount de Sales, Powers played soccer and lacrosse and was captain of both teams. She belonged to the Sodality, where she was president, the MDSA Singers, Academy Club and the National Honor Society. She was class treasurer in her sophomore and junior years, and belonged to the science and astronomy clubs.
While in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, she was a member of St. Louis Parish in Clarksville, Maryland.
After graduating from Mount de Sales, Powers earned her degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Purdue University and subsequently worked as an engineer. Her experience includes spending 2,000 hours of console time at NASA’s mission control for the International Space Station.
In 2008, she earned her law degree from Jesuit-run Santa Clara University’s School of Law. She went to Blue Origin to serve as vice president of legal and compliance.
In her current role, she is responsible for all New Shepard flight operations, vehicle maintenance, and launch, landing and ground support infrastructure.
Her friend Gilless, a parishioner at St. Mark’s Church in Catonsville, said Powers worked long hours on the July 20 mission.
“No one is more deserving of it than she is,” Gilless told the Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan news outlet.
And as for going to space with Shatner: “It doesn’t surprise me she and Captain Kirk are best friends,” Gilless said.
Dominican Sister Mary Raymond Thye, principal of Mount de Sales, led the gathered in prayer at T-minus 19.
“This is momentous for Audrey and for Mount de Sales Academy,” Sister Mary Raymond said. “May they be safe. May they come back safely.”
And about 11 minutes later they were back, touching down under a cloud of parachutes in the desert of west Texas.
After a few nerve-wracking moments recalling that not all space travel has been successful, classmate Angela Romeo said she was “just so proud and excited” to see Powers come out of the capsule to be embraced by her sister.
“It was absolutely relief (for me),” Gilless said, “and pure excitement for her.”
Tilghman writes for the Catholic Review, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.