We made promises to write and keep in touch and we did but only for a little while. For as we became more involved in our school work and extra curricular activities and the usual goings on of teen age life, the distance between us proved to be far greater than what our young minds anticipated.
As life moved on so did we. Kathi Jo married and moved to Weston, Florida, Rita married and also lives in Florida and me well, I too, am married but have stayed close to my roots.
Rita always loved math in school. And attributes to this day the excellent teaching and inspiration she received from Wheelwright High School mathematics teacher Ray Jones.
This past January, Rita Gail Patterson Willcoxon became the first woman in history to hold the position of the Launch Vehicle Processing Directorate at Kennedy Space Center.
Next to her parents, Denton and Pat Patterson of Lexington, and Suette and Troy Curry of Melbourne, Florida, and her very proud grandmother, Maggie Hall of Price, KJ and I are extremely proud of our childhood friend.
According to an article in Spaceport News by Linda Herridge, Rita’s responsibilities include, “overseeing the processing of three orbiter vehicles and integrating and launching the Space Transportation System missions. She is also responsible for the transition and retirement of shuttle assets as the program concludes.”
The article continued, “she has recently been tasked by Tip Talone, the KSC Constellation Project Office director, to assist in planning and ultimately performing the launch vehicle and integrated processing of the constellation system. Her team is already heavily engaged in activities leading to the planned 2009 launch of the Ares 1-X test flight.”
“The challenge for the organization is in balancing all three of these very important KSC roles,” Willcoxon said.
She said the biggest challenge will be to safely fly four to five shuttle launches per year in order to complete the International Space Station before the end of the program in 2010, while gearing up for the new Constellation Program at the same time.
“Our primary near-term challenge in Constellation is to complete the ground support system modifications to prepare for the Ares 1-X test flight,” she said.
This work will be added to the existing Space Program Operations Contract in which Willcoxon has technical management representative responsibility.
“I am enjoying my new role,” Willcoxon said. “I’ve had different challenges in my career, but this is the most challenging. The Launch Vehicle Processing organization has a very exciting future and I am grateful to be a part of it.”
Rita Patterson Willcoxon has worked at Kennedy Space Center for 19 years, and has 25 years experience in government service.