Sunday, September 14, 2008


Latest journey for astronaut lands him at alma matter

It was back in February when Harvey Mudd College watched NASA astronaut Stan Love and the rest of the STS-122 mission crew launch into space in order to deliver the Columbus laboratory module to the International Space Station.

Last Thursday, the Harvey Mudd College campus was able to experience the astronaut in person as part of the school’s convocation event to kick off the new school year.

“Harvey Mudd College is better known now than when I went here,” said Mr. Love, who graduated from Harvey Mudd College in 1987 with a Bachelor of Science degree in physics. “It’s also bigger but the campus still has the same kind of zany energy I remember.”

Throughout the day, Mr. Love met with students before his speech at the college’s convocation ceremony in Galileo Hall. The astronaut gave a video presentation of the STS-122 mission to both elementary and high school students in the afternoon that also included sharing artifacts..

During the convocation ceremony, Mr. Love encouraged students to push forward in their endeavors and added a touch of humor with Dr. Seuss quotes in order to keep the collegiate audience engaged. By the end of the day, HMC junior Nathan Jones came away impressed not only by the astronaut’s accomplishments, but also his character.

“I really liked the guy,” Mr. Jones said. “We had a chance to watch his video at lunch and what he’s done is awesome. Plus he’s a captivating speaker.”

One of the persons who joined Mr. Love was 86-year-old Iris Critchell. She taught Mr. Love how to fly in HMC’s Bates Aeronautics Program. Ms. Critchell, who served as a member of the Women Air Force Service Pilots during World War II, also was the instructor of George Nelson, another HMC graduate and astronaut.

“I’ve taken many students out and introduced them to airplanes,” Ms. Critchell said. “I flew with Stan quite a bit, especially during the time when he came back to California after being in Hawaii. He would come out often to fly.”

After graduating from HMC in 1987, Mr. Love then went on to earn his Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the University of Washington in 1989 and 1993 respectively. In 1995, the NASA astronaut returned to California after a postdoctoral research stint in Hawaii and worked at the California Institute of Technology as part of a prize postdoctoral fellowship. He then transferred to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in 1997 to work as a staff engineer.

COURIER photo/Gabriel Fenoy
Flight instructor and pilot Iris Critchell helps astronaut Stan Love field questions from the audience on Thursday. Ms. Critchell was one of Stan Love’s flight instructors during Mr. Love’s days as a student at Harvey Mudd.
After working one year at JPL, Mr. Love was then selected by NASA for astronaut training. Yet it would be 10 years before the HMC alumnus would travel into space.

“I served for a few years as Space Station CAPCOM where I was the voice of mission control that talked to the crew in space,” he explained. “Then I spent a few years helping engineer and build the spacecraft that was used in a 2005 mission. In 2006, I was then assigned to be a crew member and from there, I trained really hard until our mission launch.”

Mr. Love completed 2 space walks during the 12-day mission in February that tallied up 6.3 million miles and 202 orbits. According to the astronaut, the mission didn’t allow very much time for leisure.

“The experience is incredibly intense and with a weightless environment, it takes some getting used to,” he said. “There was so much to do that it was easy to lose track. Every once in a while, we had a moment to take a breath. But when we did get a chance to look at our surroundings, it was like ‘wow.’”

Not one to shy away from his Harvey Mudd College roots, he chose to have the HMC anthem “Hail Thee, Harvey Mudd” played as his song of choice during Day 11 of the mission. His friend, Amy Lewkowicz, a 1990 HMC graduate, composed the special rendition of the tune.

On display inside of the Hoch-Shanahan Dining Commons is a collection of memorabilia from aeronautics and space that also includes a helmet and uniform donated by Mr. Love. The NASA astronaut is thrilled to see that while his Alma matter continues to grow, the same spirit still embodies the campus.

“It’s now an upsized version of the Harvey Mudd College I remember,” Mr. Love said.