You might think it would be hard to impress NASA astronaut Steve Robinson. After all, he recently completed a successful space walk perched on the end of a robot arm to cut away material between the insulating tiles underneath Space Shuttle Discovery, helping ensure a safe return to Earth.
But gazing out over the meadows surrounding UC Merced, even Robinson seemed a little starry-eyed.
I have enormous respect for the intellectual power it takes to build a university from the Central Valley grass, he said. It’s exciting to see what you’ve done here.
Robinson, a Sacramento-area native and UC alumnus, showed an astronaut’s endurance through a packed schedule on his Oct. 14 visit, which was hosted by the School of Engineering and the Vanguard student engineering club.
First thing in the morning, he addressed a packed house of elementary and middle school students at the Challenger Learning Center. After his presentation of stunning photographs and exciting stories about the most recent shuttle mission, students’ hands shot into the air for questions, including the perennial favorite, How do you go to the bathroom in space? (The answer: a specially engineered toilet flushes using air and vacuum technology instead of water.)
Robinson proceeded to his main presentation to the UC Merced campus community and other area students in the Kolligian Library, where Chancellor Carol-Tomlinson Keasey introduced him as a real-life superhero.
It’s the first time I’ve ever been favorably compared with Spider-Man, Robinson said.
Following this presentation, questions tended more toward the scientific, from how rockets work to what comes next for NASA. Robinson shared plans for evolved, Apollo-style rocket launches; a return to the moon; and possibly a manned visit to Mars.
In the afternoon, Robinson met with an Engineering Service Learning class and the students, faculty and staff of the School of Engineering. His focus there was on components for successful solutions to engineering problems that he has applied as a mechanical and aeronautical engineer.
Robinson’s experience and openness proved inspiring for current and future students at UC Merced, who look forward to continued contact with this real-life hero in the future.