College of Engineering News Room
Astronaut Gives Tips for Living on Earth or in Space
By Brad Stager
Besides Tesla coils, electric cars and loud demonstrations of chemical combustion, highlights of annual USF Engineering Expos include presentations from notable STEM professionals, such as this year’s guest speaker, astronaut Franklin “Story” Musgrave, Ph.D., who flew aboard six space shuttle missions. In his case, adding an A to change the acronym to STEAM, is appropriate.
“I’m an artist as well,” said Musgrave, who creates space-themed graphics and has published his photography. He is also a multimedia producer, landscape designer and performing artist.
Since growing up on a Massachusetts farm, the 84-year-old Marine Corps veteran has acquired job skills ranging from heavy equipment repair to trauma surgery, and earned six college degrees in fields such as mathematics, medicine and literature. Story attributes the diversity of his resume and life experience to his first encounters with work on the family’s farm.
“I’m a product of child labor,” he said. “I drove every tractor, every truck by the age of 9. By 12 or 13 I could fix them, keep them going.”
From farm work, Story moved on to heavy equipment repair and service in the United States Marine Corps, where he learned to maintain airplanes and combat tanks. His skill, talent and instinct for fixing things led him to eventually repair bodies as a physician and sharpening the Hubble space telescope’s fuzzy images as NASA’s lead space walker. While the workspaces may change, there is a consistency in the application of skills, as in using the same knot to tie off a bale of hay as that required to complete closing a wound with a suture.
”You leverage everything you ever did in your past, and that’s what I did,” he said. “I’ve leveraged everything I’ve ever done, so the farm kid, the construction equipment, the tanks, fixing the airplanes, the neurophysiology, the computers, I just pull all that together. I look at who I am today and what mountain I want to climb tomorrow.”
This kind of reinvention is an established routine for Musgrave and figured prominently in his presentation to the audience of Expo attendees, along with other tips to consider.
“Personal and professional development is going through life one step at a time, being the best you can at everything you do,” said Musgrave, who served for 30 years at NASA before retiring in 1997.
Pursuing opportunities and giving them your best effort when they arise can help create chances to try something different, added Story, or as one of his presentation slides expressed it: “If this life ain’t fun, turn it in and get another one!”
Musgrave frequently speaks before student audiences to offer his insights on daily living and achieving high expectations. His presence at the 2020 USF Engineering Expo was the result of a bit of luck, according to Vincent Hoffman, an undergraduate chemical engineering student and president of the USF Engineering Medical Society, a co-sponsor of the event. His father, Alan Hoffman, who is an electrical engineer, struck up a conversation with Musgrave on a commercial air flight and set things in motion.
“After getting his business card, I reached out to Story to persuade him to give a lecture at an event for the Engineering Medical Society and the College of Engineering,” said Vincent.
The Engineering Expo is geared toward inspiring young minds and among those attending were students from Stewart Middle Magnet School, where there is an emphasis on learning technology. Members of the school’s John Glenn Top Gun Academy attended Musgrave’s presentation and were accompanied by former Stewart lead teacher Lynn McDaniel. She said Musgrave, who lives in Kissimmee, has been a frequent visitor to Stewart and is known to make an impression on young minds.
“He has the magic of inspiration,” McDaniel said.
One of the Stewart students, Anneka Devries, agreed after hearing Musgrave speak.
“I really enjoyed how he was focused on building and repairing things and how that led him to fixing the (Hubble) telescope, and how when he wanted to do something, he went for it,” she said.
As Musgrave says that building a life is a step-by-step process, he is also clear about what direction members of his audience should take in their respective journeys.
“You follow the heart and you follow your passions and your dreams — that’s what makes you good at things,” he said. “Life’s fun, isn’t it? Enjoy it.”