The Interview: Navy Capt. Kay Hire

Less than 50 women have gone into space with NASA, in the history of the U.S. Space program. Mobile native and Navy Captain Kay Hire, is in that select company. Hire recently shared about her amazing life since leaving the Port City after her early years of school. It’s a journey that has taken her around the world and to incredible heights.

“There was no way to have a set plan at that time, certainly when I was a young child there weren’t any female astronauts and it was never an intention of mine to be like oh, I’m going to be the first female astronaut.  I thought for sure by 2014, we would all have our own spacecraft or at least be routinely traveling to space,” said Hire.

Mobile native Kay Hire was not the first female astronaut, but she’s in very select company. She was inspired by Sally Ride in the 80s, and in 1998 Hire took her first ride into space. The U.S. Navy Captain credits her Mobile teachers for nurturing her curiosity.

“I had such a great foundation at St. Pius the Tenth Catholic School, not only academically but just as a whole person.  The way the teachers instilled curiosity and absolutely encouraged us to explore that helped me ask a lot of questions about math, science and certainly be curious about space and space travel.  This is where it all started for me.   At Murphy High School we had such great teachers and again, they inspired us to work harder.   And, then there was a little bit of competition among the students who wanted to be the best,” remembered Hire.

Hire’s competitive spirit earned her an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy.

“I have to be honest I wasn’t really even aware of the Naval Academy.  Growing up right here in Mobile I was very drawn to the water, spent a lot of time as a kid on the water, in the water. Just anywhere around the water, sailing, and fishing and boating and water skiing and swimming and surfing, so the Navy certainly interested me. This is exactly what I was looking for, the academics and serving in the Navy really appealed to me. So it really wasn’t a tough decision, I was very excited and there was no hesitation I was definitely taking that opportunity,” shared Hire.

She was in the second class to accept female Midshipmen.

“I was very fortunate that I didn’t feel any, I wouldn’t say not any, there were negative effects of people still getting accustomed to women being among the Brigade of Midshipmen. But, for the most part my experience was very positive.  There was a lot of very good support and again very good instructors.  To this day I’m so very thankful that I had the opportunity to attend the U.S. Naval Academy because that truly broadened my horizons,” stated Hire.

After graduation Hire became a Navy pilot.

“My first squadron, Oceanographic Development Squadron 8, we were conducting oceanographic research worldwide and in 3 years I flew to 25 different countries. I joined the Navy to see the world, so that was just a tremendous experience.  I was also able to teach after that, I instructed other naval flight officers in navigation over land and over water, and long range over water navigation,” said Hire.

In 1989, she left active duty, became a Navy Reserve pilot and took a job at the Kennedy Space Center.

“The first Space Shuttle launched in April of 1981 and boy that caught my attention. I was absolutely and immediately drawn to the Kennedy Space Center and ended up getting a job as a Space Shuttle engineer there, so my civilian job was Space Shuttle engineer.   Later, it started to occur to me, I could do that job of astronaut. So I started applying again, I never thought that i would actually be selected its so very competitive. But, I did have thousands of flight hours and also had experience as a Space Shuttle engineer working directly on the Space Shuttle,” reflected Hire.

Kay Hire was selected in December 1994.

“It’s quite challenging, your schedule is absolutely crazy and the hard part sometimes is prioritizing.  You’re basically running from the simulator to the airplane and the next thing you’re running back to another simulator. And, then you go home and study. So it’s constantly changing which is actually very exciting,” shares Hire.

Two missions on the Space Shuttles Endeavor and Columbia.

“It’s a lot of power and there’s a lot of light that’s put off by these engines and just the vibration.  The first time around that was a shock. You feel movement and certainly hear the noise, but then when the solid rocket motors light off, thats the one that just kicks you in the back and pushes you off the launch pad really fast.  In just minutes it actually gets very smooth, but you can feel that you’re going faster and faster and faster and faster, and it’s almost like just super acceleration. As soon as the main engines cut off, immediately its quiet and everything floats, all of a sudden we’re just free floating. At first it feels like when you first go over the hump of a roller coaster, when you first go over the top and you come down and you’re in that free fall. It feels like that and doesn’t go away, but after awhile your body gets used to it,” says Hire.

 

Endeavor took her to the International Space Station in 2010.

 

“All these different partner countries in this International Space Station, we work together to really explore the science and we’re learning every day.  Not only how to live and work in space, we’re learning different ways to develop better medicines and technologies. We’d really like these students that are in school now,  to come up with some brilliant ideas, new technologies and new ideas and come help us achieve these missions and to reach even further and explore even more,” states Hire.

 

Hire is back on active duty now, working for the Department of the Navy addressing space related issues.  She hopes to return to her civil service job as an astronaut at NASA, when she says, “the Navy is done with her.” Hire accomplished another historical first during her Navy career. In 1993 she became the first female in the U-S military to be assigned to a combat flying crew.

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