Teaford part of space shuttle development


Staff writer

Behind every great machine is a team of engineers with great minds for research and development.

Kris Teaford of rural Peabody is one of those team members. He has been an aeronautical engineer for 19 years.

Since November 2006, he has been manager of Advanced Flight Systems at Orbital Sciences Corporation near Fairfax, Va. He helps propose, design, and test all manner of "things that fly," including unmanned vehicles.

"This is the perfect job for me,'" he said. "It is an awesome position."

Teaford and his team currently are working on a new manned spacecraft which is expected to take the place of the present shuttles which will be mothballed in 2010.

He said the new spacecraft will be more like the Apollo capsules. His team is developing an innovative system of small rockets which will set atop the capsule to propel it away from the launching rocket in case of an emergency. He said the capsule would be jettisoned in 1.8 seconds.

"It might injure the astronauts slightly," he said, "but at least they still would be alive."

Teaford, his wife Ellen, and their six children have lived in rural Peabody since 2000. The 43-year-old man grew up at Valley Falls, a small town north of Topeka, knowing he wanted to become involved in aeronautics.

"I was in kindergarten when Apollo landed, and I always remembered that," he said. The Apollo program was the one which put man on the moon.

In those days, space flight was a bigger deal than it is today, he said. He recalled that a television was wheeled into the classroom for students to view whenever a spacecraft was launched.

After graduating from Valley Falls High School in 1984, Teaford enrolled in Kansas State University, then transferred to the University of Kansas and obtained a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1988.

At his first job at Rockwell Space Operations in Houston, he was a special flight controller for the space shuttle.

"I was one of those in the back room who was talking to the guys seen in the front room on TV," he said.

Three years later, Teaford was hired by Orbital Sciences Corporation in Virginia. From 1991 to 1997, he was involved in several research projects.

He helped develop a "transfer orbit stage" (TOS), which assists in propelling satellites into orbit.

Teaford helped develop the TOS for the Titan 3 rocket which launched the Mars Observer into space in September 1993. Teaford was sent to Cape Canaveral in Florida to monitor the launch from liftoff to orbit.

Teaford said contact with Mars Observer later was lost and never re-established, so the mission failed. But he has a brass plaque which is a replica of the one affixed to the side of the TOS which still is in orbit "somewhere between Earth and Mars," he said. The plaque is engraved by all the engineers who worked on the stage.

After that project was completed, Teaford worked for two years in California, developing an air-drop booster rocket which was made to attach to the bottom of a large jet and launch small satellites into orbit while in flight. Teaford oversaw the completion of seven such missions.

Back in Virginia, he managed a team which proposed and designed the X-34, a hypersonic research aircraft which could travel eight times the speed of sound.

The aircraft was discontinued after Congress failed to approve funding for its manufacture.

Settling down

Teaford moved back to Wichita in 1997 and went to work for Learjet as a test pilot and test engineer. As a test engineer, he sat in the back of the plane and monitored its performance electronically.

For 10 months, he worked for Spirit Aerospace Systems in Wichita and did research and development of robots for drilling.

When Teaford came back to Wichita, he thought he had come back to Kansas for good. He decided to buy land in Marion County and do some farming on the side.

He chose Marion County as the site because he was familiar with the area, having visited it as a teen-ager with his father, Richard Teaford, who was county engineer from March 1982 to August 1984. The family continued living in Valley Falls during that time.

Teaford married his present wife, Ellen, in 1998. They built a new home three or four miles northwest of Peabody and acquired 380 acres of land.

Back to Virginia

Just when they thought they and their family were permanently settled, Teaford said, the dream job he currently holds opened up back in Virginia, which he couldn't refuse.

The couple reluctantly have decided to sell their home and land and move to Virginia. The demands of Teaford's job keep him from being able to farm the land.

Although he is a pilot and can fly back and forth, he also feels the need to be close to his family and have more time to spend with them.

His 24-year-old daughter, Mande, from his first marriage, graduated from Peabody-Burns High School in 2001 and lives in Idana, near Clay Center. Her husband Jeff Hyre is in the military and is serving his fourth tour of duty in Iraq. They have one child and are expecting another in December.

Christopher, 18, attended elementary school in Peabody but graduated from Topeka High School. He joined the Army and is planning to go to Iraq in January.

Christian, 15, a sophomore, and Daulton, 14, a freshman, are Ellen's children from a previous marriage and have been adopted by Teaford.

The couple also have two young children, Abbigale, four, and Samantha, three.

An auction was held Saturday to sell the farm equipment and several parcels of land. The house is for sale as well as the 160 acres on which it sets. Ellen and the children plan to stay in the area until the end of the school year.

Kris Teaford plans to give a presentation about his career this winter to freshmen at Peabody-Burns High School. He hopes to stimulate interest in engineering.

"I hire people and have a hard time filling the positions," he said. "I wish I would have had someone to point the way while I was growing up. When I got to college, I didn't even know what an engineer does."

He has made a lot of friends in the industry.

"Oddly enough, a bunch of them work for me," he said.

He knows quite a few astronauts, as well and is a personal friend of Dan Tani, an astronaut who has made several space flights and currently is at the International Space Station. Tani was Teaford's boss at Orbital for three years.

More about Orbital Sciences Corp. can be learned at

Anyone interested in communicating with Teaford may e-mail him at