Purdue University graduates have walked on the moon, worked in the Mir Space Station, and flown the Shuttle. They also have contributed many others who work at NASA or in the burgeoning private space programs. And eight of the Purdue astronauts came back on campus to talk about their careers and experiences.
President Mitch Daniels explained the motivation for the reunion of the illustrious graduates, “There are few things that Purdue is prouder of than our runaway contribution to the space programs: 23 astronauts and 37 space missions, as well as countless other people who contributed to the space program. It is long been a point of pride and distinction to Purdue.”
President Daniels, who is currently co-chairing the Committee on Human Spaceflight to help shape the future goals for NASA, explained the influence that the space program has had on Purdue and the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs at Purdue and across the U.S., “As a premier STEM-centric university we are very conscious of the importance of young people mastering scientific and tech disciplines. It has been well established that the single most motivating factor over time to inspiring people to pursue STEM-based degrees has been the space program.
“So many leading scientists, and not just those in the space program directly, say they were first attracted to the study and their careers by the thrill of human space flight,” Daniels continued. “We talked about it extensively in the Commission. The space program’s immeasurable but real influence is that it has always been a motivator to young people.”
The eight speakers include Eugene Cernan, who manned the final Apollo mission and was the last to walk on the moon’s surface. Other astronauts and NASA leadership expected to attend include Mark Brown, Andrew Feustel, Guy Gardner, Gary Payton, Loren Shriver, Scott Tingle, and Charles Walker, who have collectively logged more than 500 hours in space. Purdue played a significant role in their training.
President Daniels is excited about the inspiration these speakers can impart to current students. Daniels said “Our students can learn how the elements of a Purdue education produce these great success stories. I just reviewed the video that will open the program and in the film one astronaut explained that ‘Our first steps into space were taken on this campus.’”
The reunion is being held as the U.S. government evaluates the vision of manned missions and what the nation wants to accomplish. President Daniels closed by saying, “Whatever direction the human space flight takes, we know Boilermakers will be in the middle of it. Each year, large numbers of our graduates move into NASA and the growing private space industry. When we survey the graduating seniors, this is one of the most interesting careers they see. We expect that Purdue grads will remain a very central part of whatever future the American space program holds.”
You can watch the entire Purdue Astronaut Forum on the university’s Youtube channel here.