Compared to some of her other recent traveling, Joan Higginbotham’s journey to SIUC this week was a short one.
Higginbotham, an astronaut and a 1987 graduate in electrical engineering, spoke about her first trip into space at the SIU Arena Thursday night. The astronaut’s visit to Carbondale, which is to include other appearances over the next two days, is part of the university’s homecoming celebration.
Higginbotham told the audience she ended up at SIUC more than 20 years ago the same way she became an astronaut – as “a fluke.”
“Part of the reason was my sister was down here in graduate school – that was one of the reasons – and I wanted to go somewhere where most of my friends were not, so I wouldn’t party and I would study,” she said.
Higginbotham went to work for NASA after graduation and was selected as an astronaut in 1996. She made her first mission into space on the shuttle Discovery in December 2006 and she is set to embark on another mission aboard the space shuttle Endeavor next year.
Answering a question from a woman who said she once tutored the astronaut in an engineering class, Higginbotham said her decision to pursue a career as an astronaut was not planned far in advance. She said she took a job at NASA after the association contacted her during her senior year of college, and a supervisor encouraged her to apply to be an astronaut. She said was rejected the first time she applied, which she said encouraged her further.
“Don’t ever tell me no,” she said.
Matt Baughman, assistant director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said Higginbotham’s visit is valuable to the university in part because she is an alumna, but also because she is an important player in the nation’s space program.
“Our nation spends a considerable amount of resources on space exploration and the research that goes into it, and I think it’s critical to have the opportunity to showcase the results of that and the people that are involved in that,” Baughman said.
Charse Nix, a junior from Chicago studying administration of justice, said he came to the lecture because he was interested to hear the perspective of an alumna who had been in space.
“It makes you feel good – it makes you feel anybody can achieve something if they really set goals,” Nix said.
Higginbotham is scheduled to speak to a group of high school students at the School of Law auditorium this morning and she is set to appear in the homecoming parade Saturday morning with her driver, Chancellor Fernando Trevi�o.
Joe Crawford can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 254 or [email protected]