Mission Specialist Nicholas Patrick
"When I was 5, I saw the Apollo 11 moon landing, and that really, really caught my imagination," recalls mission specialist Nicholas Patrick.
Image to right: STS-116 mission specialist Nicholas Patrick. Credit: NASA
"I remember exactly where I was, watching it with my parents. And from that point on, I decided I wanted to be an astronaut. There were many other things I wanted to be as a child: an archaeologist, a boat designer, all sorts of things. But that's the one interest that's really stuck with me through my childhood and through my subsequent education and career."
To make that dream a reality, though, he had to overcome a few obstacles. Among them was the fact that he was literally an ocean away from where he needed to be. Patrick was born in England, a nation that does not have any astronauts of its own. After earning a bachelor's degree in engineering, he moved to the United States.
"I essentially emigrated and wanted to be an aerospace engineer or perhaps an astronaut," he said. Focusing first on the "sensible goal" of becoming an engineer, Patrick got a job designing jet engines. He then went back to school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning a master's degree and a doctorate in mechanical engineering. He then went to work as a systems and human-factors engineer for commercial aircraft.
That accomplished, Patrick then moved on to the second part of his goal and applied to become a member of the NASA astronaut corps. NASA selected him in 1998, and he began astronaut training.
Hard work and fortitude helped him achieve the goal, but Patrick said his passion for his work was just as important. "I was really studying the things that I loved to study -- engineering, mathematics, physics, some industrial psychology; all things that fascinated me," he said. "Without that, I'm not sure I would have been able to get as far as I did. So the real key is to find the things you love and pursue those, and your interests will carry you."
Patrick says he can still remember how he felt as a child about watching the first moon landing. "I think I was amazed that anybody could be that far away; wondering whether they'd all come back safely," he said. "But the amazing thing about that was that they had just done it, and maybe this meant that we would all be going to the moon someday soon, and I wanted to be a part of that."
It's taken a little longer than he might have thought to get back to the moon, but now Patrick is, indeed, a part of that effort. "The space station is our most immediate goal in space exploration," he said. "It's the platform on which we plan to do the research that will enable us to send people into space for very, very long times. It's the place where we can test technologies like environmental controls that we will need on the moon. So I see this mission as being an integral part of the space station step in space exploration. Beyond that, we'll be going back to the moon and on to Mars."
David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services