A Serendipitous Encounter with a Space Shuttle Crew That Gave Me a Glimpse of My Future

Ah, Spring in Worcester, Massachusetts

The crew of Shuttle mission STS-73 visited Worcester Polytechnic Institute in early spring of 1996.  Unbeknownst to me, I shook the hand of my future that day and I mean that quite literally.  The STS-73 crew included the head of the WPI chemistry department, Al Sacco, as a payload specialist.  As a result, the crew’s debrief tour led them to this small engineering school in central Massachusetts.

At the time, I was a junior in college.  Along with another good friend of mine, I had just chronicled the STS-73 mission in a school publication, the Advanced Space Design Journal.  I already knew at that time, actually well before that time, that I wanted to pursue a career in space exploration.  I had no idea how I would go about that, where I would get started or what I even really wanted to do, I just knew that my future would follow that path.

I promise the smell of stale beer will wear off before we do ISS emergency training.

The commander of STS-73 was Ken Bowersox (pictured above, next to me in the Flyer’s jacket).  Ken Bowersox would later go on to be the Commander of the Expedition 6 Crew.  That just happened to be my final assignment as an International Space Station (ISS) Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) instructor.  In that role, I would be responsible for training Bowersox and the rest of the crew how to operate all of the life support equipment on ISS as well as how to respond to emergency situations like a cabin fire or leak.

Ken Bowersox is now a prominent member of the SpaceX team which is currently developing a new cargo and crew vehicle that may provide US access to low Earth orbit in the near future.  For this reason, I’m sure I haven’t seen the last of him in my career.

No, seriously, I'm going to be your training lead in 10 years.

Also on that flight, serving as a Mission Specialist, was astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria (in the blue suit above).  Lopez-Alegria would later be assigned as the Commander of ISS Expedition 14.  Coincidentally enough, Expedition 14 would be my first assignment as a Station Training Lead.  In that role, I was responsible for leading a team of instructors to ensure the crew was trained how to properly operate and live in the ISS and be ready for any contingency.

10 years later and as promised, I no longer smelled of stale beer.

The point of this story, you never know when you’re going to come face-to-face with your future.  Try to conduct yourself accordingly.  Also, wear a little more dignified, understated jacket when you’re posing for picture with astronauts.