Astronaut remembers watching Apollo 11 astronauts as a teenager in Kansas

July 16, 2019 - 9:07 am
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Kansas City, MO - A former astronaut has strong memories of July 16, 1969, the day the Apollo 11 rocket left the launching pad in Florida on its way to the moon.

Steve Hawley, who was 17 and living in Salina, Kansas at the time, watched with amazement, wondering if one day he would go into space himself.

"I decided I wanted to be an astronomer, probably in second or third grade," Hawley said. "I was kind of a space nerd when I was a kid."

Four days later, Hawley and 600-million other people watched as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon. He was excited, and recognized the magnitude of the achievement.

Hawley pursued astronomy at the University of Kansas, then earned his Ph.D. from the University of California Santa Cruz. He wanted to pursue his dream of being an astronaut, but he was not qualified because he had no experience as a pilot.

"I remember I saw a letter that was NASA letterhead," Hawley said. "Suddenly you didn't have to be a pilot anymore because they were looking for the traditionaly pilots, but they were also looking for scientists and engineers."

Hawley got on at NASA, where he trained as an engineer and robotics specialist. In 1984 he flew a mission on the Space Shuttle Discovery. He had to adjust to the weightless environment in the craft.

"If you put your pencil down, it's probably not going to be there the next time you look," Hawley said. "You need to find nice anchor points for your feet so you can use your hands without losing control of your body position. Tasks tend to take a little bit longer in space."

Hawley logged a total of 32 days in space on five shuttle missions. He left the space agency and became a professor of physics and astronomy at KU. 

At the age of 67, Hawley was asked, if he would ever go back should  NASA come calling.

"I don't think that's very likely, but if they made the offer, I'd certainly think about it," Hawley said.

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