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MJ's Wilmore gets his ride into space

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A 1981 graduate of Mt. Juliet High School and a former Golden Bear football standout, Wilmore visited Lebanon’s Parker Seals last summer to brief employees on the importance of team work and dedication to excellence.

Parker Seals manufactures rubber which is used for the 23-foot long "o-rings" so vital to the solid rocket boosters used to help launch the space shuttles.

Wilmore, who walked on at Tennessee Tech and eventually became one of the all-time leading tacklers and a Sport Hall of Famer at TTU, has been a member of the NASA Astronaut Program since July 2000 after a distinguished career as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot, flight instructor and test pilot.

"Being a part of the space program is being part of a national team," Wilmore said after signing autographs for employees and management.

"I learned a lot about team dynamics playing football at Mt. Juliet High. That’s why I’m sometimes a little uncomfortable about signing autographs – these folks here at Parker Seals play a really important role in getting those shuttles into space, just like the engineers and technicians in Houston and at the Cape."

A former offensive guard and linebacker at Mt. Juliet, Wilmore went to TTU (1982 through 1985) where his love for contact allowed the coaches to move him to outside linebacker – a position that allowed him to lead the Golden Eagles in tackles in two different seasons.

Wilmore won the team’s Robert Hill Johnson Award, he was awarded both National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Scholar-Athlete Awards.

Wilmore eventually earned both a B.S and M.S. in Electrical Engineering and another M.S. from UT-Knoxville in Aviation Systems.

His parents, Eugene and Faye Wilmore, still reside in Mt. Juliet – still in the family home on Vanderbilt Road. Wilmore and his wife Deanna live in Houston, Texas and are the parents of two daughters.

Commander Wilmore has accumulated over 5,300 flight hours and 663 carrier landings, all in tactical jet aircraft, and is a graduate of the United States Naval Test Pilot School.

During his tenure as a Naval officer and pilot, Wilmore has completed four operational deployments, flying the A-7E and FA-18 aircraft from the decks of the USS Forrestal, USS Kennedy, USS Enterprise and the USS Eisenhower aircraft carriers.

He has flown missions in support of Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Southern Watch over the skies of Iraq, as well as missions over Bosnia in support of U.S. and NATO interests. Wilmore successfully completed 21 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm while operating from the flight deck of the USS Kennedy.

His most recent operational deployment was aboard the USS Eisenhower with the "Blue Blasters" of Strike Fighter Squadron 34 (VFA-34), an F/A-18 squadron based at Naval Air Station Oceana, Va.

As a Navy Test Pilot, Wilmore participated in all aspects of the initial development of the T-45 jet trainer to include initial carrier landing certification and high angle of attack flight tests.

His test tour also included a stint at USNTPS as a systems and fixed wing "Flight Test" instructor. Prior to his selection to NASA in 2000, Wilmore was on exchange to the Air Force as a "Flight Test" instructor at the United States Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

Sports Editor Tommy Bryan may be contacted at tbryan@wilsonpost.com

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