Written by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi.
More than 100 cadets sat eagerly waiting while NASA’s live video stream played out on the screen in front of the small auditorium. On Jan. 24, members of the Coast Guard Academy‘s Aviation Club gathered to participate in a live video discussion with Daniel Burbank, a retired Coast Guard captain and commander of International Space Station Expedition 30.
The room of cadets remained silent as Mission Control, Houston, began their radio checks with the ISS as it flew more than 240 miles above the Earth.
Almost instantly, the scene on the screen jumped from mission control to the ISS, and Burbank appeared, larger than life, wearing a Coast Guard sweatshirt. He addressed the group of cadets, “Coast Guard Academy, this is International Space Station. Ron, we’ve got you loud and clear.”
The room erupted with applause, and a smiling Burbank remarked quietly over the noise, “How cool is that?”
The 20-minute conversation with Burbank provided the cadets with a rare opportunity to learn more about the ISS expedition directly from a former academy graduate.
Coast Guard Cmdr. Charles “Chip” Hatfield is an advisor for the aviation club and began coordinating the event with NASA personnel last November. He said speaking with Burbank provided a learning experience cadets can take with them throughout their careers.
“This was an important event for the aviation club and the academy – it was a first at the academy,” Hatfield said. “Capt. Burbank clearly illustrated the importance of exploring the edge of the unknown and demonstrated superior leadership by commanding the ISS. During his presentation, Burbank tied many of the things he learned as a Coast Guard officer and aviator directly to his astronaut training and experiences.”
During the discussion, Burbank stressed the importance of the education and experience cadets will receive as they become Coast Guard officers, noting everything Burbank learned in the Coast Guard was applicable to his career as an astronaut.
“When you have an aviation or operational background you have a skill set that is applicable to space flight,” Burbank said. “The way you think about a task, such as hovering a helicopter over a boat in a dark and stormy night, is similar enough to how you’d move a robot arm. Those skills map very nicely from one arena to the next.”
Burbank also fielded several questions from the cadets – questions ranging from whether they use metric or standard measurements aboard the ISS, to questions about the type of research being conducted.
Cadet 2nd Class Rachel Cuthrell was one of the cadets who spoke with Burbank and asked about the physical toll space travel has on the human body.
Cuthrell said, “I came up with the question because it was one of the things I was really curious about, and he answered it how I hoped he would. It was incredible to be able to talk with him. He’s kind of like a hero or an idol to me. It was amazing.”
The research into the effects of the human body in a weightless environment is one of the areas Burbank is in space studying. He said understanding how the human body adapts in space is essential to future space missions and possible manned flights to other planets.
When Burbank graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1985, he may never have known his career as a Coast Guard officer would lead him to become a NASA astronaut, but for the cadets who got to hear him speak, they now know the sky is no longer the limit.
In all, the entire discussion lasted only 20 minutes, but the impression Burbank left with the cadets may be felt for decades.
“I could see the cadet’s faces light up, and they made an immediate connection with Capt. Burbank. I personally think it’s an experience they will remember for the rest of their careers,” Hatfield said.