Nov 12, 2018 | Atlanta, GA
There have only been a few hundred people on the planet who have had the opportunity to launch into orbit.
That’s what made the opportunity for Tech students to meet three astronauts — all three Georgia Tech graduates — incredibly special.
Ahead of Georgia Tech’s Saturday matchup against Miami, three Yellow Jacket space veterans — Sandy Magnus, Col. Bill McArthur, and Col. Tim Kopra — took questions from students and shared the experiences that led them on their individual journeys.
Sandy Magnus (Ph.D., Materials Science and Engineering) was asked when she knew she wanted to be an astronaut.
“I loved physics in high school, but I discovered engineering in college. I didn’t know it existed before then,” Magnus said. “I was like ‘Wow! This is cool! You can take the physics and do something with it.’”
Magnus says she followed her interests and where they led her.
“If you have a goal — whether that’s to be an astronaut or not — you need to go for it. You’ll never know unless you try. I didn’t want to be 50-years-old and look back at my life and wonder if I could have been an astronaut if I tried.”
Magnus flew two space missions, including the final mission of the Space Shuttle program.
Col. Bill McArthur earned his master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech before launching on four space missions with NASA. When asked about what areas of education students should focus on if they want to be astronauts themselves, McArthur had a bit of a surprise answer.
“Engineers hate this: grammar. You’ve got to communicate,” McArthur explained. "If you're going to orbit the earth a little geography is good too."
Next, an elementary school student asked the panel how flying in a space shuttle compared to flying in a plane.
Col. Tim Kopra (M.S. Aerospace Engineering), a past commander of the International Space Station said the space shuttle is a lot rougher than a plane, likening it to a really long amusement park ride.
“After landing, you hit so hard that you spend about 10 seconds doing an inventory to make sure nothing is broken,” Kopra said. “That’s the longer answer to your question. Space flight is pretty darn cool.”
Under Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering Mike Griffin also joined the Georgia Tech astronauts on the panel.
Georgia Tech has produced 14 astronauts — tied for second among public universities. These astronauts include John Young (B.S. Aerospace Engineering 1952), who walked on the moon and was on the first space shuttle. Col. Kopra was not the only Georgia Tech graduate to command the Space Station; Shane Kimbrough (M.S. Operations Research) followed in the same year. When Kimbrough flew on Endeavour in 2008, he was joined by Magnus and Eric Boe (M.S. Electrical Engineering 1997).