Though they were just about to be launched into space, the flight crew sitting in the cockpit of the space shuttle Discovery was not too nervous just prior to their Aug. 28, 2009 launch, according to astronaut Kevin Ford.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone in our cockpit was nervous. If you are nervous about anything, it’s about throwing the correct switch at the right time,” he said. “After being on the launch pad for three hours in a space suit, it is nice to be launched into space.”
Ford, a 1982 graduate of Notre Dame with a degree in aerospace engineering, participated in the flag presentation ceremony prior to this weekend’s football game between Notre Dame and Stanford.
Ford said experiencing a new view of earth was one of the most memorable experiences of his 2009 trip to the International Space Station, which lasted almost fourteen days.
“The coolest parts are that you have a view of the planet out of the window, and the zero gravity,” he said. “Almost everything you do, gravity is somehow involved. Just doing little things involved a little forethought.”
He said though zero gravity was an entertaining aspect of his time aboard the space staion, it did present its challenges to the human body, especially in terms of acclimating to the new conditions.
“Your inner ear is in tune with gravity. You are made for this planet, and when you leave it, it is confusing for your head and your eyes,” Ford said.
Ford said it takes years to train to be certified as a flight-ready astronaut. Once he was assigned to his flight, he had a little over a year to train with his team.
“A big part of training is astronaut candidate training, which lasts about a year and a half to two years. You get some hands on and leadership training,” he said. “They also teach you some technical training that you will need to fly a space shuttle. After completing this you are assignable to a space flight.”
Ford says it took him a while to be accepted into the astronaut-training program, which he began in August of 2000.
“I applied three times before I was accepted. I still have the rejection letters at home,” he said.
Prior to his time at NASA, Ford was a member of the Air Force for 18 years — something he said was a near lifelong dream.
“I knew I wanted to fly when I was 13 or 14. I wanted to be an Air Force pilot and maybe be an airline pilot down the road,” he said. “I took flight lessons when I was 16, and worked at a grocery store to pay for it, so that should tell you how much I wanted it.”
While at Notre Dame, Ford was a member of the Air Force ROTC and lived in Morrissey Manor. He said that Notre Dame prepared him in ways for his career and training that no other school could.
“It’s a special place to get a good feel for other people’s point of view. The fact that Notre Dame has this real diverse attitude provides well,” he said. “Patience is required in training, and you are essentially a student for something that has risk associated with it.”
He also said Notre Dame’s course requirements helped make him a stronger student by forcing him to take classes he normally would not take, which has paid off in his career as an astronaut.
“Being a small community and with a great liberal arts coordination, I was able to take a lot of social sciences that my colleagues weren’t able to take,” he said.
Ford, who is scheduled to return to the International Space Station in October of 2012, said he believes the drive to succeed is what enabled him to achieve his dreams, and is the key to success for Notre Dame students.
“Consider your life and educational experiences. If you have a dream or goal, persistence is a virtue. Don’t be afraid to get out there,” he said.