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Mom Helps Astronaut Soar

In Wednesday's final installment of the "That's My Mom" series, meet Raffaela "Ray" Camarda. You may not recognize the name but for a few moments this summer her son made her the proudest mother on Earth. Tracy Smith has the report.

In a modest house on a modest street lives a woman with big bragging rights.

Ray Camarda, 78, and her husband, Jack, have lived there for decades. But she isn't proud of the house so much as whom she brought up there.

There were two sons: Barney and Charles. It was a typical Italian-American upbringing, with a liberal mixture of love and discipline. Charlie Camarda would always test the boundaries.

So who was the disciplinarian when the children were growing up?

"I was," Ray Camarda answers. "Jack was a softie. If anybody came and told me that they did something bad, they got a beating. They got spanked."

The discipline paid off. Charlie Camarda excelled in school and dreamed of flying in space. After college he joined NASA as an engineer in Hampton, Va. But his astronaut bid was rejected. Ray Camarda could sense his frustration.

"Sometimes he'd get depressed," Ray Camarda says. "Every time he had to leave, I'd cry. I'd do that. Every time he had to go back to Virginia, I'd cry. I tried not to, but I would."

Instead of flying in space, Charlie Camarda made a career out of space research. But in 1996, at 44 years old, he applied to the astronaut program one more time.

"He called me and he said, 'Mom, they called me from the astronaut program! And I said, 'Well, Charles, don't worry about it. It's all right if you didn't make it," Ray Camarda says. "And he said, 'You didn't let me finish! I made it!' Then, I said, 'Oh my god!' "

Astronaut Charlie Camarda says his mother was "stressed out" when he called to tell her the news.

"You could tell because she was crying," he says. "They were tears of joy, but you could tell she was very, very worried."

She had good reason. Charlie Camarda's first flight would be STS-114 — the first shuttle mission after the Columbia disaster. In the final hours before launch he was calm and focused. His mom was a wreck.

"I didn't take my blood pressure, but I took my blood pressure medicine," she says. "I didn't know how high it was going to go!"

Watching a tape of the launch, she was nervous all over again.

"I'm telling you, when I watched them go in there I was getting claustrophobia just watching them," she says. "The last few minutes were so scary, the last few seconds. I relive it!"

The rest really is history. Charlie Camarda lived his dream of flying in space. His mom lived every mother's dream of seeing her children happy and safe.

"She's a typical Italian mom, and I'm sure she was worried," Ray Camarda says. "Once when he was really low, he said to me, 'Mom, how come you never stopped me?' I said, 'Because, Charles, as much as it was breaking my heart, I could not have you say some day that I prevented you from doing something you wanted to do all your life.' "

And she can sleep a little easier now. Charlie Camarda has taken a new research job at NASA that will keep his feet firmly on the ground.

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