Astronaut shares space experience with cadets


Astronaut Kjell Lindgren, a 1995 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, is shown here on the International Space Shuttle in 2015. Lindgren spoke to cadets Oct. 20, 2017 about his experience on the ISS and the challenges he had to overcome to fulfill his dream of becoming an astronaut. 2017(NASA photo)


How great is the view of Earth from space?

In the words of one astronaut Oct. 20, “Absolutely spectacular.”

“It’s a vibrant blue and white globe sitting in inky blackness,” said Kjell Lindgren, a 1995 graduate of the Air Force Academy who has 141 days in space under his belt.

Lindgren spent six months on the International Space Station with his ISS program partners completing dozens of scientific experiments in low-flight orbit. He said the highlight of his time in space was also his most challenging: stepping outside the ship while it zoomed through orbit at 17,900 mph 250 miles above the Earth.

“Stepping out of that ship was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “There’s no way to describe the emotions.”

Despite a very tight schedule, Lindgren and his international cohorts took advantage of any opportunity to gaze through the ship’s windows at their home planet. Every astronaut he has met returned from space with a renewed respect for the fragility of Earth, he said.

“The Earth is this finite resource and it’s our spaceship,” Lindgren said. “If we don’t take care of it, it won’t take care of us.”

The same goes for the ISS, scheduled via international agreement to be maintained until 2024.

“Part of the international space community’s job is to maintain it,” Lindgren said. “We’ve got incredibly talented people to help us sustain it.”

Lindgren said the space community’s international partnership is an example of how global relationships can work.

“We all have a mission and we’re all really dedicated to making that mission safe and successful,” he said. “The most important part of the ISS program for us is to collaborate. By working together, we get to do something great for mankind.”

Lindgren said he always wanted to be an astronaut but faced some big challenges before finally getting to wear the suit, including getting bumped out of the Air Force after he was mistakenly diagnosed with asthma, and having to slog through Calculus 3 math class three times at the Academy.

“Calculus three was not my best friend,” he said.

Lindgren left the Academy with a biology degree and earned a master’s from Colorado State. He followed that up with a medical degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder.  He was one of 14 Americans to be selected for the Astronaut Program in 2009. After two years of training and evaluation, he was assigned to NASA’s Spacecraft Communicator branch before taking off for the ISS from Kazakhstan aboard a Russian space capsule.

Lt. Col. Don Rhymer, the Academy’s associate dean for research, is a classmate of Lindgren’s. He said the astronaut’s career shows the importance of teamwork and perseverance. Especially when Lindgren refused to allow medical or academic challenges to overwhelm him.

“Kjell was fueled to work hard on an alternative path and he got there,” Rhymer said.

Lindgren shrugged-off any idea that he’s any more extraordinary than any cadet or Airman.

“There’s just is no substitute for working hard,” he said. “Keep your eye on your dreams.”