Last week I had the opportunity to spend some time with retired NASA astronaut Duane “Digger” Carey, who was visiting Clark Planetarium to speak to the public about his experiences as the pilot of the Space Shuttle Columbia during NASA’s fourth Hubble Space Telescope repair mission.
“Digger” (that’s what he prefers folks to call him) is not your typical astronaut. He grew up in a single-parent home and struggled with his math and science classes as a child. In fact, he admits he slept through some of them.
After finishing high school he bought a used motorcycle, scrounged some camping gear and set off on a cross country odyssey in search of adventure. After running out of travel funds (He noted wryly that, “Eighteen year-olds are known for their planning skills,”) he resorted to hitching rides, hopping freight trains and later worked as a bartender and a typewriter repairman.
After speaking with a retired pilot about the joys of flying Digger concluded that being a jet pilot was what he wanted to do with his life.
He went to college, earned his bachelors degree, joined the Air Force, went through Officer’s Training and earned a masters degree in Aerospace Engineering, flew combat missions during Desert Storm, became an Air Force Test Pilot, joined NASA, and flew the Columbia Space Shuttle. Now he’s retired and spends his time traveling by motorcycle around the country working tirelessly to get kids excited about science and math, space exploration, and above all, recognizing their own capacity to do great things. Wow.
Digger’s stories moved the audience at the planetarium that night to laughter, introspection and above all, heartfelt applause. He came here to share an inspiring story, that’s exactly what he did.
To echo the lessons from Lt. Carey that night, it’s important to stay in school and pay attention to the hard classes (math and science). Challenge yourself to accomplish something you thought were to hard for you. Great things await those who do.