NASA astronauts visit MSU, share experiences

Shackouls Honors College welcomed former NASA members to Starkville on Wednesday. Pictured are (left to right) Shackouls Director of Office of Prestigious External Scholarships Tommy Anderson, former NASA flight controller Jerry Bostick, Shackouls honor student Ben Emmrich, former astronauts Charles Duke and Fred Haise and Shackouls honor student Marvin McCandless. (Photo by Sarah Raines, SDN)
Staff Writer

Mississippi State University celebrated a partnership with the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation with special guests, and the SDN had the opportunity to speak to two NASA astronauts and a flight controller on Wednesday to hear about their personal experiences.

Retired Brigadier General Charles Duke, Jr. worked in both Mission Control as well as the Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) for Apollo 11 and served as the lunar module pilot on board Apollo 16.

Duke and his crew were in space from April 1 to April 27, 1972. He and spacecraft commander John Young set the record for lunar surface stay at 71 hours and 14 minutes. While on the moon, they collected 213 pounds of rock and soil samples for research.

Duke said a highlight in his own career was being a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force before joining NASA, working for Mission Control and later being on a mission.

"It was a great career, and a big challenge, and something I would repeat again," Duke said. "I think probably the biggest challenge as a flight astronaut was my flight on Apollo 16. It was a demanding three days on the lunar surface."

Duke said, while on the surface, they were focused on the operational tasks at hand. With a lot of experiments to carry out and samples to collect, making the mission a success was his biggest challenge.

Of all the things he misses, Duke said training was not one of them, but the flights that he took after he finished training were his favorite parts of the job.

"The thrill of a flight, I guess, was the most exciting," Duke said. "The view of the earth, at first, and viewing the moon from the back side and seeing our landing site and being there, that was really exciting."

Duke is looking forward to seeing more development in the aerospace industry, including at places like the Stennis Space Center and in Huntsville.

"Aerospace, including the airplane side of it, has some very exciting airplanes coming down the pike," Duke said. "New fighters, transports, commercial, and then on the space side, the commercial business is really picking up … They're working hard to get a manned spacecraft."

Duke also mentioned NASA projects like the Orion and Space Launch System that he looks forward to watching develop further.

"I think the future is really bright for the space business," Duke said.

Captain Fred Haise, Jr., a Biloxi native, was lunar module pilot for Apollo 13 from April 11 to April 17, 1970. After an explosion in the oxygen system, Haise and his crewmen used the lunar module "Aquarius" as a lifeboat and coordinated with Mission Control to make it back to earth safely.

Haise said he sees a lot of potential in MSU engineers and the aerospace field. Haise has two great-nephews who graduated from MSU's engineering program and now work for Lockheed Corporation and Chevron Corporation.

"Mississippi State is a college that has excellent engineering, physics and math, which is kind of the root discipline that are needed by graduates that join aerospace major companies," Haise said. "All of the disciplines that the college produces can pertain to all sorts of major companies."

Haise began college with the aspiration of starting a career in journalism and becoming a reporter, but his plans changed when the Korean War began.

"I decided to serve my country, and I signed up into the Naval Aviation Cadet program," Haise said. "I knew, almost from the first time I flew, that this was something I loved and I made a career choice to change and pursue something that would keep me around airplanes."

Haise later earned a degree with honors in aeronautical engineering from the University of Oklahoma and a doctorate of science from Western Michigan University.

Haise said he is looking forward to seeing what will come next in aerospace, but the industry is not continuing in the same direction it was when the Apollo missions were taking place.

"Nothing since has had that degree of support," Haise said. "I think the roles we are currently pursuing are fine. They are mainly cargo vehicles … and eventually some of them are going to carry people."

Haise said he hopes to see NASA pursue more exploration missions, to continue with manned and unmanned flights that look farther out in the solar system and maybe someday beyond.

Since retiring, Haise said the aspect he missed most about his time as an astronaut was the people.

"I've been on projects, since, that are more connected with nonprofit organizations, where I can do some help, so that has been my main focus since I retired," Haise said.

Former NASA flight controller with Mission Control Jerry Bostick graduated from MSU with a degree in civil engineering in 1961 before joining NASA.

Bostick said his love for math inspired him to try and join a space task group at the Langley Research Center. When he was turned away, flight director Chris Kraft, developer of the manned space flight network, asked him why he had applied.

"I told him I wanted to work on real problems, and he said they might need somebody to survey the moon," Bostick said.

Bostick served as retrofire officer and flight dynamics officer during Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs.

Bostick said the partnership with ASF and MSU gives students the opportunity to meet with astronauts and learn what a job in aerospace can lead to.

"It's hopefully a wonderful experience for them," Bostick said. "I hope it gives them a chance to learn a lot more about what being in space flight is about, and hopefully become more interested in it and contribute."


For students aspiring to work in the aerospace industry, Duke and Haise both said it is important for students to find a field they are passionate in and then pursue it.

Haise, who worked with Grumman Corporation after retiring from NASA, found the business world just as interesting as engineering.

"At a very early age, find something you're inclined to do, that you're good at and you enjoy, and generally you'll be happier at work and you'd generally be more successful in life," Haise said.

Duke said if the student enjoys their field of study, they will still have a job they will excel at, despite where the career takes them.

"It might lead to an astronaut job or it might not," Duke said. "You've still got a career you will enjoy and a lot of great jobs for aerospace engineers all over the county."