McAllen astronaut, former ISS commander reflects on career and why he’s ‘blown away’ by SpaceX

Texas

HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy announced the goal of landing a man on the moon before a joint session of Congress. 

In that speech, he said,

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieve the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project will be more exciting, or more impressive to mankind, or more important, and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

Years later America did just that, as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on July 20, 1969.

This landing inspired the world, including McAllen native Michael Fossum.

Fossum was just a boy at the time, but this great feat would lead Fossum to become one of the Rio Grande Valley’s only astronauts.

According to NASA, Fossum is a veteran of three space flights and has logged more than 194 days in space, including more than 48 hours in seven spacewalks.

“Sitting on the launch pad, you can feel the space shuttle coming to life as the main engines lit up and you feel this shutter and vibration,” he said as he recalled his experience. 

Fossum says though these moments are always breathtaking, they are still scary for him. But as an astronaut, you have a job to do no matter what. 

“You’re thinking, ‘OK, if that goes wrong, what is our next step? And, what could fail?’ so you’re really busy all the way uphill,” Fossum said.

Fossum has served in a variety of roles over the course of his career, but most notably was his last mission in 2011 where he served as the commander of the International Space Station.

While up there, Fossum says looking down at earth was always a spiritual experience.

“I was just looking at the North Atlantic Ocean, with this blue ocean down there and dappling white clouds and this impossible black sky above and with the brightness of earth,” Fossum said.

You couldn’t really see the earth, and this thin ban of the atmosphere about the width of my finger, it’s like ‘oh myGgod this is amazing,’” he said.

To say he enjoyed his career as an astronaut would be an understatement.

Now, the Mcallen native gives back to the next generation as the Vice President of Texas A&M University, the COO of Texas A&M University at Galveston and Superintendent of Texas A&M Maritime Academy.

“You can do just about anything that you put your mind to that you work hard enough to achieve.” said Fossum.

These are words he continues to pass on to middle school students in McAllen.

Many of these students attend Fossum Middle School, named after Fossum for all his aeronautic accomplishments.

Fossum went on to say he is encouraged by the recent developments and strides SpaceX has made over the years. When Fossum grew up in the RGV, he says there were no engineering programs, and very few jobs for engineers.

Now, programs are flourishing and he says SpaceX has made great strides on the space front. Fossum says today, there are plenty of jobs for people in the area looking to break into the field.

“SpaceX, now that’s a complete game-changer.  I toured the SpaceX facility in Boca Chica and I am just blown away at what’s going on down there and of course, we all watched that successful landing,” said Fossum.


Fossum says he wants the RGV to continue to press forward in space exploration.

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