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Astronaut tells DU students there’s a place in space program for all disciplines

Astronaut Kjell Lindgren addresses DU students on Sept. 26. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Kjell Lindgren didn’t really know how he was going to get there, but from childhood he knew he wanted to explore outer space.

Lindgren — now a NASA astronaut — told DU students on Sept. 26 that today’s space programs don’t require students to follow a path through the military and flight school to get involved, but joining the elite corps does require a commitment to excellence starting the moment they set foot on a college campus.

“There’s a place for you at NASA, whether it’s as a scientist, a technician, in media relations, as a flight controller or as an astronaut,” Lindgren said. “Find something you’re passionate about and love what you do. I can’t tell you how to get there. I can only tell you what I did.”

Lindgren (his first name is pronounced “Chell”) earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in Mandarin Chinese from the Air Force Academy in 1995. Then he earned a master’s degree in cardiovascular physiology from Colorado State University in 1996. He earned his MD at the University of Colorado in 2002, followed by a three-year residency and earned board certification in emergency medicine and aerospace medicine. He then got a master’s degree in health informatics from the University of Minnesota in 2006 and completed another residency focusing on aerospace medicine. Lindgren also obtained a master’s degree in public health in 2007 from the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Somehow, he found the time to marry a DU alumna, the former Kristiana Jones, who graduated in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in music performance. They have three children.

Through it all, Lindgren knew he was aiming for space, somehow.

“I had a passion for space,” he said. “I tried to seek out what it was that I could do to participate in space travel.”

He was a flight surgeon for the Air Force — a doctor who specializes in caring for pilots — when NASA held an open application period for astronaut training in September 2007. Of some 3,500 American applicants, about 2,800 were considered qualified. NASA whittled down the list to 100 interviewees. Of them, nine, including Lindgren, were accepted for astronaut training.

He only recently graduated from training that included learning Russian and how to fly a jet airplane. He received training in outdoor survival, open-water survival and operating the technical systems of the International Space Station, where he hopes to one day orbit the earth on a six-month mission.

Before taking questions from the assembled DU students representing a range of studies from engineering to business, Lindgren narrated a five-minute video of life aboard the orbiting space station that is now served by Russian rockets. The orbiting giant is as long as an American football field and has the internal space of a five-bedroom house.

For students who think they might be interested in joining him at NASA one day, Lindgren said the time to prepare is now.

“Get started. Look for opportunities, find opportunities or make opportunities for yourself so you can develop the contacts and the skill set that you’ll need to get that one job that you really want,” he said. “You’ve got to start thinking about it now. No one is going to come by and hand it to you.”


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