NASA Astronaut visits Fairbanks

Published: May. 2, 2019 at 3:27 PM AKDT
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A dream that first began as an 8 -year-old boy, Leroy Chiao knew what he was going to be after watching Apollo 11 land on the moon.

" I was eight years old 50 years ago watching Apollo 11 land on the moon. That’s what created the dream for me. It was something that I never forgot and stayed with me, even when I was in university studying engineering. I kept going back to what do I want to do as a career, and I kept going back to being an astronaut. So I always knew that I would apply, to NASA and try and do that, “ said Chaio.

Dr. Leroy Chiao started his career with NASA in 1990. In the 15 years with the organization he flew in four space missions.

“My first mission was aboard space shuttle Colombia. It was a science flight so we did a bunch of different scientific investigations, mostly on life sciences but also on material sciences and also some basic physics,” he said. Accomplishing over 80 different scientific investigations than we had planned.

“So we were pretty proud of that,” he exclaimed. On his second mission Chaio had his first spacewalk aboard space shuttle Endeavor.

“On STS ’72 we were testing tools and construction techniques that we would use to help construct the International Space Station,” he said. “I got to do my first spacewalk, aboard space shuttle Endeavor.”

Stepping outside the Space shuttle for the first time.

“Then my third mission aboard space shuttle Discovery was the second major assembly mission of the space station program, and we went up and we installed two big pieces into the space station the Z-1 trust and the third pressurized mating adapter,” he said.

In his final flight he trained with Russian astronauts and launched aboard a Russian Soyuz Rocket out of Kazakhstan to the International Space Station, where he was the commander and NASA science officer during Expedition 10.

“Which was a six and a half month flight,” he explained.

After retiring from NASA, Chiao kept in touch with international astronauts from around the world.

“After leaving NASA I went over and I was the first American to be invited to the Chinese space center in Beijing. And I got to meet the first Chinese national astronauts there back in 2006 and so I have kind of kept in touch with all of them over the years, maintain relationships with them,” he said. “And we are all kind of hopeful that at some point we may be able to cooperate together and bring them into kind of this international framework just as we have with the Russians, and the Europeans the Japanese and the Canadians.”

He said after retiring the space shuttle in July of 2011, America has not had its own way of sending astronauts to space without help from the Russians.

“So hopefully that will change early next year in 2020 when both SpaceX and Boeing are supposed to begin commercial operations of their space craft and start making Americans go back to the ISS from American soil,” he said.

Chaio said none of what he accomplished would have happened if it wasn’t for those before him.

“I think the early astronauts were the true pioneers that really got on top of those rockets before anyone had done that before. The ones that went on to develop all the procedures and all the capabilities that got us to the moon, and then the astronauts that actually went to the moon. Those guys to me were the real pioneers, of course we, in our small way, helped pioneer this International Space Station Era, which the ISS is by far the most audacious engineering project ever conceived and built in space by a long ways. So it is just a testament to all the engineers around the world and all the technical folks and all the astronauts and mission controllers, and everyone else that made it all possible. So in a small way we feel like pioneers,” he said.

Now Chiao spends his time with kids and young adults visiting schools and sending a message.

“Well you know the recipe for success that we put out there as part of one orbit and the message to the kids this week in Fairbanks and we bring our programs around the world is, It starts with a dream and it takes more than that, it takes a lot of hard work, you have to figure out a plan you think is going to get you there. It takes courage to take that dream. It takes hard work. Perseverance, and running into setbacks, just keeping on going, and you know maintaining that positive attitude. There are no guarantees, there are no guarantees in life, it doesn’t mean that you are going to get there, there is certainly no guarantees that I was going to get selected by NASA but if you don’t try you’re never going to get there, and if you do try you’ll get somewhere,” he said.

Chiao has many stories from his missions, when asked to share one of his favorites...

“Probably the neatest moment in my flying career I was on my third mission helping to build the ISS and I was out on the space walk and I had my boots attached to the robotic arm on the shuttle and I was being moved from one work site to another on the space station and for several moments like maybe about a minute, I was face down to the earth and I couldn’t see either the space shuttle or the space station out of my peripheral vison, and I was just watching the earth watching the continents and the clouds roll by and I felt like a satellite flying over the earth and that was probably the most magical moment,” he said.

When asked what was it like to see the Earth from space?

“It’s kind of surreal it doesn’t look, it almost looks fake. Too bright, the colors are too bright and it almost looks like some kind of a fabrication or a CGI thing,” he laughed.

to Learn more about astronaut Dr. Leroy Chiao and his program One Orbit visit

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