Return flight brings astronaut back to Tech

Returning from last November’s shuttle flight to the International Space Station (ISS), Eric Boe, EE ‘97, returned to his alma mater on Monday to give a talk on his experience aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour and the ISS. He shared some of the lessons he learned in space and spoke about the future of space exploration.

Along with Tech alumni Sandra Magnus, MSE ‘96, and Robert Kimbrough, MS OR ‘98, Boe was the pilot of the crew for shuttle mission STS-126. The objective of the mission was to deliver supplies to the ISS and to service the solar alpha rotary joints.

Boe is a native of Atlanta and graduated from Henderson High School in Dekalb County. He then attended the U.S. Air Force Academy, graduating in 1987. He flew over 55 combat missions with the U.S. Airforce, and as a test pilot, he flew over 45 different aircraft. Onboard STS-126, Boe was responsible for the orbital systems, robotic arm and also assisted in the rendezvous of Endeavour to the ISS.

Boe began his talk by describing the highlights of his mission. He described one particularly interesting experiment about how spiders were able to adapt to conditions in space and weave their webs after several days. He also described the process used to repair the solar array joints, which constantly turn to face the sun and gain maximum power. He highlighted the fact that many of the tools used in space have similar counterparts on Earth, but are designed to withstand a broader range of conditions.

He went on to talk about some of the lessons he learned in space. “Being out in space gives you a whole different perspective on things… it shows how little we know about everything,” Boe said. He cited this as a reason to continue spaceflights and returning to the moon.

Boe also stated that space exploration is a key to maintaining America’s status as a superpower. “If you look throughout history, those civilizations that were most powerful invested in exploration,” he said.

He also noted the opportunity available for commercial ventures to make it to space, and what this means for the future. “We are in the Roaring 20s of space exploration,” he said, meaning that the time is ripe for private investors to enter the space industry and make space travel practical and more affordable.

He fielded several questions after his talk from the audience. One of the questions dealt with the current budget for NASA and the Obama administration’s space policy.

“A lot of people think that NASA uses too much money but if you look at the things NASA does with the Mars Rovers, the Hubble and the ISS missions, it’s remarkable,” he said. Boe pointed out that the budget for NASA is just one-half percent of America’s GDP and that the military’s budget for space ventures actually exceeds that of NASA.

He also described his recruitment process and how he came to be an astronaut. “As an astronaut, you are essentially an operator of equipment and any operational experience, a pilot’s license, language ability and a broad base of experience is good,” he said.

After returning home, Boe will continue his training as an astronaut and remain on the backup crew for the upcoming shuttle mission.