Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Astronaut remembered for his passion for science

Silver Spring man, who traveled to space on two space shuttle missions, dies of cancer

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Gazette file photo
Ron Parise, shown here in June 2003 at the NASA Visitors’ Center in Greenbelt, traveled to space twice and worked for NASA locally on space projects and educational programs.
Former astronaut Ronald Parise, 56, who flew on two shuttle missions for NASA and had a love for teaching, science and ham radio, died in his Silver Spring home May 9, 2008.

His family and friends said they would remember Parise, who died after a long battle with brain cancer, for sharing his excitement of the cosmos and technology with students of all ages.

‘‘He was dedicated to getting students excited about the opportunities that existed in space exploration,” said Silver Spring resident Frank Bauer, a friend of Parise’s for 27 years.

Bauer and Parise collaborated on the development of the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope, which has been used to produce high-quality images from space, in the early 1980s. In 1984, Parise was hired by NASA to work as a payload specialist on specific missions. His duties over the next 12 years included mission planning, scientific data analysis and simulator development.

While working for NASA, he flew on two missions on the space shuttles Columbia in 1990 and Endeavour in 1995. Those crews were the first to operate telescopes from space. In a Gazette story from 2003, Parise described his passion for space as ‘‘the coolest thing you could ever do.”

Parise’s wife Cecilia Sokol-Parise said her husband ‘‘just loved space. He loved traveling in space, looking out the window.”

But he also loved to help students, she said. While on one of his missions, he talked to a class of Briggs Chaney Middle School students on his ham radio, a pastime he picked up from his father.

‘‘He used his hobby as another educational outreach opportunity,” Bauer said.

Parise, a native of Warren, Ohio, became interested in astronomy as a teenager through the Mahoning Valley Astronomical Society, where he built his first two telescopes. While there, he also earned his private pilot’s license.

Nick Parise, his 25-year-old son and a first lieutenant with the U.S. Air Force, said his father once flew the two out to Ocean City for sodas, and flew back home the same afternoon.

‘‘We had a strong connection through aviation,” Nick Parise said. ‘‘He would drag me along to air shows, take me to Andrews Air Force Base every year.”

Nick Parise said his father also nurtured his ‘‘nerd at heart.” In 2002, Nick, then 20 years old, led a team of students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida in designing ‘‘Eagle Eye,” a user-controlled satellite. In a Gazette story about that achievement, Parise described his son’s work ethic as one for which ‘‘He doesn’t get much sleep.”

‘‘I think I was too young to really appreciate what he was doing,” Nick Parise said of his father’s work with NASA. ‘‘It was just what he did. That’s all we knew.”

Katie Parise, Parise’s 23-year-old daughter, said her most fond memory of her father was a homemade telescope he set up in the family’s backyard.

‘‘He’d have us look through it, showing us constellations he could find,” she said. ‘‘He embedded his love of space in us at a very young age.”

Parise received his bachelor of science degree in physics at Youngstown State University in Ohio in 1973. He received a master of science degree in astronomy at the University of Florida in 1977, and a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Florida in 1979. He received the NASA Space Flight Medal, awarded to astronauts with extraordinary achievements in space exploration, in 1991 to 1995, and was a member of the American Astronomical Society and the Association of Space Explorers.

He is the son of Henry and Cathryn Parise, and the brother of Rita A. Parise. A funeral Mass will be held 10 a.m. Saturday at the Church of The Resurrection, 3315 Greencastle Road, in Burtonsville. Friends may call from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at Francis J. Collins Funeral Home, 500 University Blvd. W., in Silver Spring.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Youngtown State University Foundation, Dr. Ronald A. Parise Scholarship Fund.