To the moon and back

Yvonne Marquez

Instead of talking about space, a retired NASA director shared some of his Earth experiences Monday to teach a group of about 75 UT faculty and students lessons in life and leadership.

Jim Kennedy, former director of the John F. Kennedy Space Center, spoke as part of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering’s Distinguished Lecture Series on Monday. He gave the audience several pieces of advice, telling them change is not a bad thing and not to fear failure. His stories were inspired by his time at NASA.
He said people should focus on abilities, not disabilities. Kennedy talked about his blind grandfather, who helped rebuild his hometown church after a tornado blew it down in 1942.

“You accentuate to compensate what you don’t have,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said NASA only has enough funding for two more space missions. He said NASA wants to find different ways to fund new missions, specifically by finding commercial businesses to finance space travel. Last December, the first commercial flight to orbit Earth was launched, successfully orbiting twice before landing in the Pacific Ocean.

“The government is now pursuing this idea of instead of paying the contractors full fare to develop the rocket, they want the commercial industry to pay for themselves,” Kennedy said. “Then when they get their rockets ready to fly, [they] charge NASA by the pound to take payloads where they need to go. That is the new scenario now.”

Mechanical engineering sophomore Juan Ruiz interned at the Johnson Space Center in the summer of 2010. He was part of a team that worked on the Robonaut 2, a second generation anthropomorphic robot designed to help astronauts accomplish hazardous tasks that endanger their lives.

Ruiz said listening to Kennedy was like hearing a celebrity speak. He said he will take some of Kennedy’s advice to one day become an astronaut.

“He never quit,” Ruiz said. “He always kept going and that’s an inspiration to me. Even if there are bumps on the road in college you always have to keep going and pushing through.”

Mechanical engineering graduate student Columbia Mishra, who is named after the shuttle Columbia, said she liked Kennedy’s personality and wanted to hear more about Kennedy’s knowledge of the business administration side of NASA.

“I’m interested in space technology and the future of space and missions,” Mishra said. “Since the shuttles are being closed and more privatization is happening, I wanted to know what the stakes were involved for space.”