Astronaut Shane Kimbrough returns to Tech

During Kimbrough’s visit to Tech, he toured numerous labs and maker spaces, including the Yang Aero Maker Space, which includes 3D printing resources. // Photo courtesy of news.gatech.edu

On March 4, students, faculty and community members packed a classroom in the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons to welcome astronaut Shane Kimbrough back to Tech after his recent stay at the International Space Station (ISS). Kimbrough was the commander of the SpaceX Crew-2 and spent 199 days in space during the mission. 

Hosted by the College of Engineering (COE) and School of Aerospace Engineering (AE), the event was Kimbrough’s first time returning to Tech since his departure for the ISS in April of 2021. 

The livestream of Kimbrough’s talk amassed over 900 views. 

Virtual attendees featured a number of students from K–12 schools and universities alike. 

This included the Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy, a partner of the COE, and Centennial Academy, a neighbor of Tech. 

After an introduction by COE Dean Raheem Beyah, Kimbrough recounted his career in space. 

Kimbrough described his experience on three different space vehicles — the Space Shuttle, the Soyuz and the SpaceX Dragon.

“The Soyuz was the smoothest ride that we’ve had of the three … the Dragon is somewhere in between,” Kimbrough said. 

He went on to illustrate the experience of launching into space aboard the Dragon.

“The first stage lasts a couple minutes, and then you have ten seconds or so of weightless[ness] … then when that second stage engine lights, it is very impressive. You’re thrown back in your seat. It feels like your face is gonna peel off, and you’re just laughing the whole time,” Kimbrough said.

Kimbrough credited the success of his most recent mission to his team. 

On Crew-2, Kimbrough was joined by Megan McArthur from the U.S., Akihiko Hoshide from Japan and Thomas Pesquet from France. 

“That’s really what made the mission for us such a huge success was relying on these incredible people from different cultures,” Kimbrough said. 

On the ISS, Kimbrough’s crew joined seven other people, including SpaceX Crew-1.

Kimbrough’s talk was followed by a video presentation demonstrating some of the projects conducted aboard the ISS. 

The team of astronauts researched celestial immunity and explored how greater amounts of protein crystals can be collected in zero-gravity. 

Both of these projects contribute to medical research and the development of medications and vaccines. 

The team also grew chili peppers aboard the ISS, which they got to enjoy before their departure. 

McArthur said it was one of the more complicated horticulture projects conducted on the ISS.

Even in space, Kimbrough was not far from home. 

He showed the audience a picture of Atlanta
taken from the ISS where landmarks such as Bobby Dodd Stadium and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium were visible. 

“I’ve got to see places from around the world that I’ve never been to or even heard of, in some cases, and it just really made me appreciate the beauty of our planet,” Kimbrough said. 

Following Kimbrough’s talk, Naia Butler-Craig, AE graduate student, moderated the question-and-answer portion of the event. 

Kimbrough disclosed the difficulties he encountered during his NASA application process and the hurdles he faced before some of his missions. 

He applied four times before being accepted to train as an astronaut with NASA. 

Later, he encountered some medical issues that may have barred him from ever being able to fly again. 

“I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to fly again, but I wanted to really open the doors of the medical community, honestly, at NASA … and if it wasn’t going to help me, that’s okay. But I wanted it to help future astronauts,” Kimbrough said. 

One of the most valuable skills Kimbrough used in space that he did not gain from training was self-care. 

“Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean that you’re selfish. It means you’re taking care of you, so that other people don’t have to take care of you,” Kimbrough said. 

Kimbrough also expounded on how being in space changed his perspective on earth and the environment. 

“Seeing that thin layer of atmosphere that protects all of us down here from living and dying, honestly, it’s a super humble view of earth … It really made me appreciate what we have here. I wanna take care of what we have here,” Kimbrough said. 

When asked if he always knew he wanted to be an astronaut, Kimbrough described how the space missions he watched as a child set him on the course of his career today. 

“When I was a small child, that’s when men were landing on the moon, and that just captivated the entire country,” Kimbrough said.

Kimbrough mentioned that growing up, his grandparents lived near the Kennedy Space Center, and his grandfather would regularly take him to see launches in person. 

“I kind of had it in my blood, honestly, from my grandfather and the inspiration that he gave me to be an astronaut,” Kimbrough said. 

Kimbrough also spoke on how his experiences serving in the U.S. Army influenced his choice to study ISYE at Tech and how the skills from his degree are applied in space. 

Through ISYE, he gained skills in statistics, optimization and problem-solving. 

“The problem solving skills … in any engineering discipline in general just set you up for success,” Kimbrough said. 

The talk then turned to ask Kimbrough about his opinions on extraterrestrial intelligence. 

“I haven’t seen aliens, if that’s what you’re really asking about. I don’t believe in them,” Kimbrough said. 

Kimbrough also provided insight into the process of how astronauts are chosen and what personality traits make a good astronaut. 

“People that take care of themselves, people that are humble, people that’ll admit that they don’t know everything. Those are skills that are actually great to have,” Kimbrough said. 

He also emphasized the importance of working with someone that could admit
that they need help, so other team members can know when to offer more support. This communication is essential during a mission to space. On the privatization of the space race, Kimbrough offered a unique and positive perspective. 

“It’s awesome. All of these different companies being very creative and all have different solutions and different looking vehicles. So, it’s really an exciting time to be in the space business,” Kimbrough said. 

Kimbrough also spoke about what he sees as the future of NASA. 

“We, at NASA, are at the tail-end of low earth orbit. Our next goal is to get to the moon again, and have a sustainable presence on the moon in the next decade or so,” Kimbrough said. 

Kimbrough estimated that these advancements in space travel should allow NASA or a private company to very likely conduct a full-fledged expedition to Mars within the next several decades.

What was once a distant dream for many years could soon become a reality.