Astronaut encourages kids to look to join the space program

Tuesday , April 28, 2015 - 5:13 PM

By Dana Rimington
Standard-Examiner correspondent

KAYSVILLE — The space shuttle system may be a thing of the past, but a former NASA astronaut and retired U.S. Air Force pilot told the crowd of elementary students who gathered at Davis High School last week that the space program is still alive and well.

Brian Duffy says humans will continue flying to the International Space Station, but it will be supported by commercial companies, telling students they could one day purchase a ticket to go up into space — it is hoped that the Orion spacecraft currently being developed by NASA will be ready to take humans to Mars by the time today’s students are adults.

“We are now using all of the things we learned in the shuttle program and bringing it into the next program for a human vehicle, the rocket Space Launch System, our next great ship that is building on the past,” Duffy said. “We are designing and building the spacecraft that will carry humans back to the moon, past the moon, up to an asteroid, and ultimately, up to Mars. That is where you guys are going. We are building the program now, but we will hand it to you so you can go do that.”

The program was similarly handed to Duffy’s generation, when as a young boy, he witnessed the first astronaut launched into space, so that by the time he reached his 30s when he was chosen by NASA to be an astronaut, the space shuttle system was in full swing and the International Space Station was just beginning to come together.

Duffy was on one of the last missions that flew to the space station before humans began living there. He flew in four space shuttle missions and spoke of his experience riding in the shuttle and docking on the space station. However, Duffy pointed out, “The truth is, you don’t see space travel on TV a lot these days since they ended the shuttle program and there aren’t a lot of humans in space right now, but there will be in the future that any of you can be a part of as we work on the program for the future.”

For instance, Duffy talked about the moment he found himself in a rocket launching into space from a spot not far from where Alan Shepard, America’s first astronaut, launched. “It was an amazing experience for me watching him walk out and ride in an elevator to the top of a rocket, climb in and bolt the hatch on and see him actually leave the planet Earth for the first time,” Duffy said. “I have to admit it got my imagination going as a younger boy and little did I know that 31 years later I would be sitting on a launchpad on my back, with the hatch closed, waiting to leave the planet.”

Duffy encouraged the students to come join the human exploration movement. “Do well in school, stay healthy, make good choices, then come work in the space business because we are looking for you,” he said. Working in the space program doesn’t necessarily mean being an astronaut, as Duffy suggested the need for physicists, chemical engineers and mathematicians.

Students got to ask Duffy a few questions at the end of his presentation and one student wanted to know if there is life on Mars. It’s debatable, Duffy said, and if there is, it’s not human life. “Recently we have found water on Mars, and if that is so, there is a good chance life exists, such as single or multiple cell organisms.”

Another student wanted to know how astronauts sleep. “I loved sleeping in space because I was completely relaxed. It was like sitting in a chair inside a sleeping bag strapped to the walls and because you aren’t touching anything, there were no pressure points, so you don’t have to turn over, so it’s really easy to sleep,” Duffy said.

Though Duffy enjoyed his four shuttle missions into space, he always looked forward to coming home. His longest mission was two weeks and because there wasn’t a shower on board, he said he always looked forward to a long, hot shower.

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