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Astronaut's family is over the moon with pride

Army Lt. Col. Robert W. Kimbrough glanced over his shoulder and smiled just as the camera clicked. Flying airplanes made him happy, even the observation Bird Dogs during two dangerous combat tours of Vietnam.

A few other photographs in the family album show the tall, handsome soldier in his dress blue uniform, back when his hair was dark and he had more of it. But mainly, the pages are devoted to his sons and grandchildren.

Army Lt. Col. Robert S. Kimbrough smiles for the camera. Movie star looks. Here he is as captain of the U.S. Military Academy baseball team. Here he is graduating from West Point.

Here he is in his space suit.

Shane Kimbrough is scheduled to blast into space Nov. 12 aboard the Endeavour space shuttle. The seven-member crew will deliver equipment to the International Space Station, deploy a satellite, install a new camera and repair a broken solar panel.

The mission calls for Kimbrough to leave the shuttle twice to make repairs. The average space walk is 6 1/2 hours.

So, Dad, does that make you nervous?

"Not at all," the elder Kimbrough said. "I know they're well-trained. I won't lose any sleep. And I am so proud he's able to do this."

Kimbrough is a big name in these parts, starting in the early 1900s when James Walt Kimbrough and his wife, Elizabeth, settled in the rolling hills of Spring Lake in Hernando County and raised cattle and citrus. Today their great-grandson Jim Kimbrough is the region's most recognized banker as chairman of SunTrust. Robert served 23 years in the Army and retired last year as executive assistant to Pasco Sheriff Bob White.

While most Kimbroughs stay in the area, Robert and former wife DeAnn (now Johnson) moved around the world as they raised Shane and Scott, two years younger. Scott is a lawyer in Marietta, Ga.

Scott was born July 29, 1969, nine days after Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. The Kimbroughs named their new son Michael Scott Kimbrough in honor of the pilot of that mission, Michael Collins.

This was long before his brother dreamed of becoming an astronaut. But even then, the space program had a huge influence on DeAnn, who grew up in Mims, 5 miles from Titusville. Her mother's family had to sell three beach houses when NASA began developing Cape Kennedy. During the boom years of the Mercury and Apollo programs, it seemed everyone who lived in the area worked for the government.

Today, DeAnn Johnson lives in Fernandina Beach. She and Robert were married for 31 years and remain friends. A few years ago, she was going through some old family treasures and came across a drawing Shane created when he was in first grade. It is now framed and on the wall in the home near Houston where Shane lives with wife Robbie and their three children.

It shows a boy looking up to the sky. An airplane passes above.

"The airplane looks exactly like the space shuttle," DeAnn said. "This was 1973 or '74, long before there even was a space shuttle."

"I guess it shows I was more interested than I knew," Shane said Thursday, moments after evacuating to Austin to escape Hurricane Ike.

In a brief conversation, he spoke of his love for family, gratitude that his dad turned down opportunities so his sons could stay put while in high school. He said he was nervous but eager to go after all these months of intense training.

"The family is all excited," he said. "And yeah, I guess I am, too. It's becoming more real now."

His mother wasn't surprised by his brevity.

"Shane is one of the most humble people you'll ever meet," she said. "If you were sitting next to him on an airplane, he would find out much more about you than you would about him."

What's in store after this mission?

NASA expects to return human explorers to the moon by 2020 in the Orion craft as part of Project Constellation. Then, deeper into space.

Shane Kimbrough wants to be part of that.

"I would love to walk on the moon."

>>Fast facts

Robert Shane Kimbrough

Robert Shane Kimbrough, 41, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1989. A year later he served in Operation Desert Storm with the 24th Infantry Division as an attack helicopter platoon leader. In 1994 he was assigned to the 229th Aviation Regiment at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he commanded an Apache helicopter company. He earned a master of science degree from Georgia Tech in 1998 and taught math at West Point. He joined NASA at the Johnson Space Center in September 2000 and was selected as an astronaut four years later.

Mission STS-126

Endeavour launch set for Nov. 12, returning Nov. 27. Crew: Navy Capt. Christopher Ferguson, commander; Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Boe, pilot; Navy Cmdr. Stephen Bowen, Navy Capt. Heidemarie Stefanshyn-Piper, Army Lt. Col. Robert S. Kimbrough, Donald Pettit, Ph.D., and Sandra Magnus, Ph.D.

Astronaut's family is over the moon with pride 09/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 2:07pm]

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