Bernard A. Harris Jr., former NASA astronaut and entrepreneur, shares his experience with school students

“The only reason I’m standing here today is because I dreamed of becoming an astronaut,” said Bernard A. Harris Jr., former astronaut, physician, and entrepreneur, to a room full of curious students from schools in Kochi. Dr. Harris, formerly an astronaut with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States of America, was addressing students at an interactive session organised here on Friday by TiEcon Kerala conference on entrepreneurship.

Dr. Harris, a veteran of two space flights, told students how he watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon in 1969 on his little black-and-white television at home. “I was excited. All the kids in my class were excited because something like that had never been done before. Hopefully, someone from this room will follow in those footsteps because we need young people like you,” he said.

The students seized the opportunity to shoot many questions to Dr. Harris, who is currently chief executive officer of a venture capital firm. They asked about the training an astronaut undergoes before embarking on a space mission, life aboard a spaceship, and spacewalks. His responses enlightened students about the real challenges of space travel, those not usually seen in films and television. The spunky students kept Dr. Harris engaged for an hour with their questions. “Is it true a UFO actually landed in California?” asked a girl.

A chilling experience

Yet another student quipped, “As an astronaut did you ever have to go, ‘Houston, we have a problem?’. Though he initially responded with a hearty laugh, Dr. Harris recounted a chilling experience he had before his first space flight. “On my first mission, we lost an engine just before lift-off. The engine caught fire. I didn’t think we’d make it. So we do often have problems when we are on a spaceship,” he said.

The students eagerly participated in the interactive session.

Even after the talk, the children mobbed Dr. Harris and his wife Valerie with questions and requests for autographs.

“It was a great session, really informative and exciting,” said Lakshmi, a Class IX student from Global Public School. “Very inspiring too,” Steffin, a Class XI student from TocH Public School, chipped in.

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