AKRON, Ohio — Two high school classmates driven early by different goals found themselves a decade later working in similar career fields — one a top naval aviator and one a NASA astronaut.
On June 6, 1966, Stuart Robinson Powrie and Judith Arlene Resnik graduated with their senior class from Firestone High School. Their families and the educators at the Akron, Ohio school inspired the two to climb higher and travel farther.
Stu (as he liked to be called) was a competitive swimmer during high school and later at the U.S. Naval Academy. In 1970, Powrie graduated from the academy, but not before he set two Navy records as a competitive swimmer.
Judy loved classical piano, however she loved mathematics even more during high school. She even earned a perfect score on her SAT exam. In 1970, she graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a B.S. degree in electrical engineering.
Stu earned a Master of Science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1975. This lead to a job at the Pacific Missile Test Center at Pt. Mugu, California.
After Carnegie Mellon, Judy Resnik joined RCA as a Missile and Radar Projects design engineer. In 1975, she began attending classes at the University of Maryland. She graduated with a Ph.D in electrical engineering two years later.
Dr. Resnik also earned her pilot’s license in 1977, and she quickly became a top aviator. She also began to shift her job focus to new heights — a career in aerospace.
Judy wanted to become an astronaut, and for the first time NASA was hiring new candidates for their upcoming space shuttle program. She was selected in 1977 as part of the new astronaut candidate class.
In October 1980, LCDR. Powrie was chosen as a pilot for the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron. Known as the Blue Angels, he trained and served as the opposing solo in Blue Angel 6.
Stu performed at air shows across the United States and Canada during the Blue Angels 1981 season. He also visited hospitals and schools during the squadron’s public outreach programs.
During autumn of 1981, Stu elevated to the position as the Lead Solo pilot with the Blues. The team returned to their winter training home in January at NAF El Centro in southern California.
On February 22, 1982, Stu was completing the Dirty Loop maneuver during a Blue Angels training flight at El Centro. His A-4F Skyhawk stalled and he crashed into the desert floor. He died at the scene.
In August 1984, Judy made it to space aboard shuttle Discovery’s maiden flight. She helped deploy three satellites, and tested a new 100-foot solar array. Six days later, Discovery’s crew of six landed at Edwards AFB in California.
Judy next launched aboard the space shuttle Challenger — her second flight — on January 28, 1986. As Challenger rose into a blue Florida sky, its external tank ruptured 73 seconds into flight. Flames from a faulty solid rocket booster seal penetrated the fuel tank’s skin.
The force of the explosion shattered the orbiter, separating the crew cabin and sending it up and away. Three minutes later, the cabin splashed down in the Atlantic waters with a force of nearly 200 times that of gravity. Challenger’s crew of seven astronauts were killed.
Today, inside Firestone Community Learning Center’s atrium, trophies and banners highlight the school’s past achievements. High above the open area, a school hall-of-fame features glass mounted glossy photographs of several former students.
Side-by-side, U.S. Navy pilot LCDR. Stu Powrie and NASA astronaut Dr. Judy Resnik hold the last two positions. Their portraits face the front entrance to Firestone reflecting upon the faces of future scholars.
(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)