By Gerhard Schneibel

gerhard@reporternewspapers

When astronaut Shane Kimbrough graduated from The Lovett School in 1985, he had no idea he would one day fly into space as a NASA astronaut. He did so in November aboard the shuttle Endeavour, and he returned in late February to his alma mater to tell about his experience and encourage students not to give up on their dreams.

Kimbrough told Dagny Peters, 6, who aspires to be an astronaut, that “floating around in space was pretty neat.”

“There wasn’t much I didn’t like about space,” the Army lieutenant colonel said as he signed her kid-size flight suit. Dagny’s dad, Greg, bought her the suit at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, and she used it as a Halloween costume.

Dagny’s mom, Jill, said her daughter became interested in spaceflight after watching the NASA TV channel last year. Since then, Dagny has read all about space, science and the planets in the Lovett library.

“I think she might actually try to become an astronaut. For a 6-year-old, she’s very interested in it,” Jill said. “She likes science, and she’s very interested in the planet.”

When she turns 7, Dagny plans to go to space camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. She asked Kimbrough if he went to space camp as a child.

“We didn’t have space camp then,” he said. “We had something similar, but space camp is pretty good these days. They have better simulators than we do.”

Dagny wants to go into space because “it seems like fun, and you can do a lot of stuff.”

Kimbrough’s trip to space lasted 16 days after four years of training. He completed two spacewalks and spent a total of 12 hours and 52 minutes outside the shuttle on a mission to assemble an expansion of the international space station.

His advice to the Lovett students who want to become astronauts is to “make sure they’ve done things they love along the way. The end result can’t be your only passion.”

He added a note of realism: “Likely the astronaut thing isn’t going to work out, so do things you like along the way. Your first priority should be to go to school and get a college degree. Do that, and do it well. They’re not going to take people who do average.”

Setting high standards will help students lead successful lives, even if they don’t make it into space, he said. If they are serious about space, they will want to get a master’s degree in math, science or engineering and stay in good physical shape. Kimbrough went to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, then added a master’s degree from Georgia Tech.

An amazing experience awaits anyone who makes it into space, he said. “It exceeded all my expectations. Everything was just amazing; there’s no other way to describe it.”

It took only eight minutes for the shuttle to get from launch to orbit.

“It was really fun,” Kimbrough said. “It’s something our simulators can’t even get close to, which is something I didn’t know until I rode up the hill. The acceleration was just ridiculous. There’s no other way to put it.”

Freshman Ian Crosby also spoke with Kimbrough. He aspires to work in the space program, even if he doesn’t get to space himself.

“There are so many more people than just the people that go into space,” Ian said. “There are hundreds of engineers, and there are crew chiefs. It’s just so cool that there are all these people working on one common goal.”