By COURTNEY POMEROY
News-Post of Frederick
FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli was a guest speaker Wednesday afternoon at Hood College. He talked about his experiences as a crew member of the International Space Station. Nespoli was in the area because he is attending the ceremony transferring the space shuttle Discovery from NASA to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Annex in Virginia Thursday.
Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli knows from his experiences in space and on Earth that the human race has a deep-rooted need to explore.
“I have a 3-year-old daughter, and when I put her in a room I don’t have to tell her, ‘Please touch everything,”‘ he said, getting laughs from a crowd of about 100 at Hood College on Wednesday afternoon.
The rest of his talk described some of his more exotic firsthand knowledge. Nespoli, 55, said he was 19 when he was drafted by the Italian army. When he got out at age 26, he knew he wanted to be an astronaut but wondered if it was possible, given his lack of education and the fact that he did not know English.
So Nespoli applied to an American university and had earned both a bachelor and master of science degree in aeronautics and astronautics by 1989.
In 2007, he served as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Discovery. The shuttle’s retirement is the reason he was in town, as he will help escort it to its “final resting place” inside a Smithsonian hangar today, he said.
Beginning in 2010, Nespoli served on a six-month mission on the International Space Station, which is what most of his talk focused on. He spoke about the difficulties that come with weightlessness, the body’s recovery process while getting reaccustomed to gravity and the sights he saw from space, including the Egyptian pyramids, Mount Vesuvius and the Grand Canyon.
Tiziana Cavinato, an instructor in the Hood College biology department, has known Nespoli since 1998. Both are Italian, and they met through mutual friends, Cavinato said. She has wanted him to do a talk on campus since she began teaching there, and he called her two weeks ago to ask if he could come while he was in town, she said.
She hoped the students in attendance would draw hope from Nespoli’s story and “see that they can reach for the stars,” she said.
Hood student Allie Donoghue said Cavinato’s hope was a reality for her.
“He’s an inspiration,” she said. He was 26 and unsure of his career path, “so it was kind of like a lot of college students,” she said.
“I’ll probably never meet an Italian astronaut again,” said student Dan Tinsley. “Or any astronaut.”
Chris DiGangi, a Hood student and aspiring astronaut, said he came to the lecture to find out about Nespoli’s personal path to his career.
“I was really excited,” DiGangi said. “I stole a (promotional) poster so I could get him to sign it.”
Nespoli said he enjoys doing lectures because he likes seeing the pure interest and curiosity in attendees.
“It’s something I started doing for myself,” he said.
He especially likes talking to students so he can show them that anyone can achieve great things.
“I was a little student in the middle of nowhere, short of ideas and opportunities.” Becoming an astronaut, he said, “was a mindset.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)