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NASA engineer holds to faith: ‘God is good all the time’

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (BP)–With numbers, it might be a sign of whether you are optimistic or pessimistic. For Neil Mizell, a lead engineer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. for 16 years, the number 16 might now take on a special significance.

The failed Columbia mission had a productive 16 days in space — that was a good thing. Shortly before landing, however, that same shuttle Mizell helped launch into orbit broke apart over north-central Texas only 16 minutes before its scheduled arrival at the Cape.

“In any tragedy, everything is good or bad or somewhere in-between,” Mizell said.

“But God is good all the time. He’s good to us and he comforts us and gives us joy in our hearts.”

Mizell, a member of First Baptist Church of Merritt Island, Fla., and a veteran of 87 shuttle launches, said it took him only a few minutes to realize the fate of Columbia Feb. 1.

In Mississippi to visit family and to hunt, Mizell was eating breakfast when a news flash about the shuttle landing surprised him. Typically news crews don’t cover landings anymore unless it’s local news or a very slow day, he said.

Packing his bags quickly, Mizell said he stuck around long enough to make sure the shuttle was overdue. At that point he knew there was no way they were landing in Florida.

“When you are dealing with all that is empowered in landing, the tremendous speed and tremendous heat … the margin for recovery is very slight. It is very unforgiving,” Mizell told the Florida Baptist Witness. “If there’s any anomaly whatsoever, it’s pretty catastrophic.”

The threat of an accident like Columbia’s is always something NASA people think about, he said. “It’s always in the back of your mind that something like that can happen, but you never expect it.”

But through it all, Mizell said his faith in God will sustain him. A reminder of that was reading and praying through Psalm 23 with his Sunday School class prior to FBC’s Feb. 2 morning worship.

“This is stable, this is constant,” Mizell said, finding comfort in repeating the words of the Psalm during the service. “That’s what I was thinking.”

Mizell said President Bush’s words to the nation Feb. 1 also brought comfort. “He basically reaffirmed that we would go forward,” Mizell said. “That was very nice to see — a president who is not ashamed to quote Scripture or profess his faith.”

But most of all, the words he heard from Columbia Commander Rick D. Husband in the final minutes before takeoff Jan. 16 will stay with him forever.

Typically the shuttle commander, who acknowledges the final clearance, gets the last word in.

On this day, listening in for the final minutes before countdown, Mizell said he was surprised when Husband thanked NASA and then commented on the weather.

“‘The Lord has blessed us with a beautiful day for a launch,'” Mizell recalled Husband saying.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan