Col. Michael E. Fossum, a veteran of three space flights, on the last of which he commanded the International Space Station in 2011, provided perspective on space exploration Tuesday morning after two current ISS astronauts answered questions from Brownsville high school seniors on a live NASA downlink.
The ISS astronauts, Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency, answered questions from 10 Brownsville Independent School District high school seniors during a live downlink from the ISS from 9:15 to 9:35 a.m. The exchange was broadcast live worldwide via NASA TV and throughout BISD over KBSD TV cable television.
A presentation from Fossum about his three trips aboard now-retired NASA Space Shuttles, first to help build the ISS and ultimately commanding Expedition 29 aboard the ISS also aired on KBSD and YouTube from the stage at BISD’s Central Administration Building auditorium on Palm Boulevard.
The event was the result of collaboration among the South Texas Astronomical Society, or STARS, the Children’s Museum of Brownsville and BISD. The three entities won a grant earlier this year to query the astronauts on a live downlink. They submitted the grant application as the Brownsville Science Center, an entity still in the planninng stages but that they said they fully expect to see realized, especially with all of the space exploration activity going on in Brownsville around SpaceX an its launch facility at Boca Chica Beach.
Fossum, who grew up in McAllen, has logged 194 days in space and more than 48 hours in seven spacewalks during his 19 years as an astronaut. He retold the story about how he first dreamed of becoming an astronaut while viewing the night sky as a boy from the banks of the Rio Grande.
Even though it took him seven tries to get accepted as a NASA astronaut, he said he was ultimately successful because he regarded the response “no” as meaning “not yet.”
Fossum serves as vice president of Texas A&M University, the chief operating officer of the Galveston Campus, and the superintendent of the Texas A&M Maritime Academy. Fossum joined Texas A&M following his retirement from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in 2017. During his first two space flights in 2006 and 2008 he helped build and repair the ISS.
In response to a question from Cesar De Los Santos about what Fossum said space veterans call the “overview effect,” the perspective that results from seeing planet Earth from 250 miles up, Fossum said the Earth is a space ship in its own right, as is the International Space Station.
He said the ISS continues to operate because, despite their political differences, the United States and Russia realize that “neither one of us can operate the ISS alone.”
The regular arrival of supplies and astronauts is proof of international cooperation and “that if we’re focused on a mission we can do amazing things together,” he said.