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Alumnus leads NASA during crisis

Alumnus Bruce Buckingham sat in Christ’s Chapel as a student, and, later in his career, found himself communicating as launch control during the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

“I was the voice of launch control for the Columbia shuttle. I had gotten to know [the astronauts] pretty well. It was pretty tough going through that experience,” Buckingham said of the disaster when the Columbia broke apart just before re-entering the atmosphere, killing all seven crew members on board.

Buckingham, a 1978 graduate with a degree in psychology, said he valued his time as a student at ORU.

“I actually have some very fond memories of being a student at ORU,” Buckingham said. “It was a pretty exciting time meeting Christians from all over the world and getting to understand what the movement of the Holy Spirit’s all about. My interaction with people at Oral Roberts was hugely instrumental in my being successful at NASA.”

After graduating, Buckingham moved to Washington, D.C. and became a senior legislative assistant for seven years for U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. During his time in D.C., Buckingham tracked legislation and policy affecting NASA.

He moved back to Florida and applied for a position at the Kennedy Space Center. Buckingham started at NASA in 1985 as a media specialist. He worked his way up and eventually became the news chief and head of media relations at NASA.

Buckingham counts the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster as one of the defining moments of his career.

“I was looking forward to getting them back home,” he said. “We were devastated when they didn’t make it.”

Buckingham worked exceptionally hard during the time of the explosion. He worked 20-hour days, dealing with multiple media outlets and going live on national television in the morning, noon and evening editions. In 2004, the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation awarded Buckingham “The Space Communicator” award for his work following the Columbia explosion.

“I was honored to receive [the award] on behalf of the entire team,” Buckingham said. “I got to sit next to another gentleman who was receiving a similar award, Neil Armstrong. It was kind of cool to be right next to him during the whole process.”

Buckingham’s legislative work in Senator Nelson’s office helped in the process of keeping projects like the Hubble Space Telescope and the Mars Observer alive.

“Both of those projects were at risk of being cut at one time,” Buckingham said. “It was part of my job to ensure that we could get funding for those programs. We worked pretty diligently to make sure that they kept on track.”

Buckingham says what he learned at NASA helped him later in life. He founded Jamie Buckingham ministries in memory of his late father, a pastor who traveled the world and authored several books.

“I’ve learned a lot in my career and the culmination of all that led to me to the ministry I’m in now,” he said.

After his father passed away, Buckingham collected all of his father’s teaching materials, sermons and books. He continues to publish his father’s materials online and put books back into publication.

In addition to his ministry, Buckingham recently wrote a novel called “The Last Snowman in Paris.” Taking from his experiences in the U.S. Capitol, Buckingham’s fictional character is an apathetic congressman who finds himself on a life-changing adventure in Paris.

Buckingham has accomplished much during his career, and he hopes to accomplish even more in his lifetime.

“I always tell people it wasn’t me,” Buckingham said. “All I’m doing is following the Lord. All I’m doing is trying to hear what God’s telling me to do and do what he tells me to do.”

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