Former astronaut Clay Anderson visited campus to discuss his life journey from Earth to space and autograph and promote his books.
Anderson took the stage in a makeshift flight-suit made from a royal blue pullover with his NASA patches sewn onto his chest and upper arms. Anderson's lecture was not a by-the-book science and astronomy lecture; instead it was littered with his goofiness and light-hearted take on his experiences while in orbit. Anderson logged nearly 167 days in space and recounted the day he and his family watched the Apollo Moon landings when he was 10 years old, and Anderson said he knew that day that he wanted to be an astronaut.
Anderson's lecture focused on four parts: First, students need a dream; second, they must persevere; third, they don't have to be a genius but be above average and lastly, be proud of themselves.
As an astronaut, Anderson said, “We have the power to change lives." His lectures are supposed to inspire children and young adults to learn, challenge themselves and give something to dream about. Anderson also discussed how he served under the only time in human history when two women commanded separate spaceships.
Camille Yoke, a fourth-year physics student, having read stories from Anderson's books, attended the lecture. She said she found it interesting to have them brought to life through his lecture.
“It's kind of surreal when you’re just reading it, it’s out of touch with what’s happening, and then getting to hear him talk," Yoke said. "It kind of solidifies that astronauts are just people."
Yoke also pointed out Anderson's continued astronaut application rejections — he was rejected more times than any other astronaut — as an inspiring feat.
“That application process I think is as interesting as anything that he actually did on board the International Space Station because it’s like a tenth of a percent of everybody that applies actually gets in," Yoke said.
While in space, Anderson said he saw many memorable sights, including the Egyptian pyramids and his hometown of Ashland, Nebraska, which he had planned to take pictures of as he flew over it the first time. However, when the moment came, Anderson said he realized he couldn't identify where Ashland was on Earth because the imaginary state lines on maps aren't real.
“I wept, because I was flying over my home, where all the people, my teachers, my family, my friends had raised me to be the person that was now having the blessing and the opportunity to fly for the United States of America, over his hometown," Anderson said. “And at five miles per second, it was gone pretty fast.” However, through his days in orbit he eventually snapped photos of his hometown.
Lev Looney, a recent marine science and geography USC graduate, said he's been attending many lectures on campus to expand his knowledge and learn new and interesting facts. Looney said he's been to lectures on topics that are far outside of his general knowledge to learn new perspectives and said this is why lectures such as Anderson's are important to students.
“It gives you a different perspective and it brings in different accomplished people that have totally different ways. Every lecture that I’ve been to, the speaker has had a different way of persevering through difficult times and getting to where they are today,” Looney said.
Bryan DeMarcy, vice president of the Midlands Astronomy Club, organized the event and said the main goal was to promote astronomy and science to the Columbia community.
DeMarcy said Anderson's average Joe personalty showed that jobs as an astronaut can be held by anyone.
“These kids, they grow up, they don’t realize that these opportunities are within reach, so it’s a good way to get the students engaged," DeMarcy said.