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Space explorers share life stories with students

Russian Space Agency cosmonaut Alexander Alexandrov told an Introduction to Robotics class his experience working in the space exploration field. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

Space explorers on Wednesday visited the University to share their life stories, answer questions and inspire students who are interested in becoming outer space’s next generation of scientists, engineers and astronauts.

Retired European Space Agency astronaut Claude Nicollier and Russian Space Agency cosmonaut Alexander Alexandrov told an Introduction to Robotics class their experience working in the space exploration field and how every area from robotics, science, mathematics and more is important.

“I feel extremely fortunate I could do this,” Nicollier said about his time in space. “Being an astronaut is something that you have to work really hard for.”

Nicollier was the first Swiss citizen to travel into space. In 1976, he joined ESA’s space science department as a research scientist. ESA selected him in 1978 as a candidate for a seat on the first Spacelab mission.

Nicollier in 1980 was dispatched to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where he received mission specialist training with other astronaut candidates. He served as a mission specialist on four flights.

“I’m very happy to have spent 25 years here in Houston training for space flight and these wonderful missions and sharing this with my American colleagues and my European colleagues,” Nicollier said.

Nicollier also took part in two service and repair missions to the Hubble Space Telescope. During his final spaceflight, he participated in a spacewalk, and he became the first ESA astronaut to do so on a shuttle flight, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

“My most treasured flight was my flight to the Hubble Space Telescope,” Nicollier said. “I was part of the first mission to do repair work in December 1993.

Alexandrov is from Moscow and has had two missions to space: one to the space station Mir and another to Salyut 7. He was originally a civil engineer focused on robotics, construction and design inside the space stations. Later, he became chief of the selection and training of cosmonauts for the Mir.

“We have a lot of interesting programs for students in schools,” Alexandrov said about student access to learning about space exploration.

Alexandrov showed the students a video from one of his flights that featured views from space of Earth’s clouds, volcanoes and oceans. The video also showed the astronauts’ daily physical exercises, the astronauts having some fun in their spare time and their medical checkups — all while floating in zero gravity.

“One is the doctor, and one is the patient,” said Olga Bannova, director of the University’s space architecture graduate program, explaining how the two astronauts performed checkups on each other. “And then they switch.”

Nicollier took questions from the students, varying from the future of artificial intelligence technology in the space exploration industry to whether humanity would have to theoretically move to Mars one day.

“That is too much privilege for one single person like myself,” Nicollier said on his gratitude to have participated in these missions. “I feel really embarrassed to have been so lucky.”

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