When opportunity knocks


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Retired Col. Robert Springer took the opportunity to become an astronaut, flying as a mission specialist two times.

Whenever opportunity knocks, retired Col. Robert Springer flings the door wide open.

“When opportunities pop up, you owe it to yourself to at least take a look,” Springer said.

That philosophy for living has served the Rockledge resident well, leading him to careers with the Marine Corps, NASA and the private sector.

Opportunity first presented itself to Springer in the form of an appointment to the United States Naval Academy.

“My family was not wealthy and I was looking for the best opportunity to get a good college education,” Springer said.

Born in St. Louis, Mo. but raised in the small town atmosphere of Ashland, Ohio, Springer graduated from the Naval Academy in 1964. 

Service in Vietnam was in the cards for Springer after he earned his aviator wings, but even here luck was on his side, for he was never shot down, despite flying more than 500 combat sorties in F-4 Phantom 11 fighters, 0-1 Bird Dogs and the legendary Huey helicopters. The decorated aviator in the United States Marine Corps has logged more than 4,500 flying hours, including 3,500 in jet aircraft. The Marine Corps awarded him the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Navy Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit, among other commendations.

Opportunity came calling on Springer again when a friend handed him an application for NASA’s astronaut corps not long after Springer had finished test pilot school. The friend did not apply to become an astronaut, but Springer did. Springer was serving as aide-de-camp for the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force Atlantic when he learned NASA had chosen him to be an astronaut.

“Working with a three-star general was another golden opportunity,” he said. “Wherever he went, I went.”

Springer flew as a mission specialist in Space Shuttle Discovery in 1989 (STS-29) and in Atlantis (STS-38) in 1990. His efforts with NASA earned him the Space Flight Medal and NASA Distinguished Service Medal, just to name two among many.

In 1990, Springer left NASA for a career as director of quality systems with Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems. He retired from Boeing in 2007.

With four children and six grandchildren scattered throughout the country, Springer and wife Deborah decided that their choice of location for their retirement would be Deborah’s home county of Brevard.

“When you have four kids, you can’t live near all of them, so we decided we would live where we wanted to be,” he said.

Opportunity again presented itself with one of the few riverfront lots left along River Road in Rockledge. The couple engaged custom builder Christopher Burton to build the home of their dreams, which now serves as base of operations for Springer’s motivational speaking career.

He has spoken at various corporate retreats in the U.S. and internationally, as well as special events at Kennedy Space Center and at the Space Camps in Huntsville, Ala.

Whenever there is spare time, he enjoys kayaking, running, golf and travel.

“I always say you should start with something you enjoy, and then when opportunities present themselves, you should act on them,” Springer said.

“It’s worked for me. I’ve had once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.”