Former astronaut Jim Voss challenges Auburn graduates to work hard, pursue dreams

Published: December 13, 2014
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AUBURN UNIVERSITY—It would be natural to assume that a man whose career includes five missions into space, 163 days aboard the International Space Station and four spacewalks always wanted to be an astronaut. Not so for Auburn alumnus Jim Voss. As he told Auburn's 1,500 graduating seniors Saturday, his first love was baseball.

"As a child, while I was playing baseball on a sandy lot over in Opelika, I dreamed of playing third base for the New York Yankees," Voss said. "Later, I began reading science fiction novels and dreamed of becoming an astronaut, living in space and traveling to other worlds."

Voss did fairly well in his "fall back" profession. The 1972 Auburn aerospace engineering graduate spent a total of 201 days in space and is one of six Auburn alumni that have flown into space.

During his commencement address, Voss told Auburn graduates that dreams like his are attainable, but none comes without hard work.

"Dreams are not fulfilled overnight, but are accomplished by years of goal-setting, moving forward one step at a time and often overcoming setbacks along the way," he said.

Voss first applied to become an astronaut in 1978, and he had to repeat the lengthy process five times over the next nine years.

"Each rejection was a blow to me. I thought they just didn’t want me," Voss said. "But I continued to gain experience and improve my credentials until I was accepted in 1987. I was finally able to achieve my goal of flying in space."

After flying four missions aboard shuttles Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour from 1991-2000, Voss was selected as a member of the Expedition 2 crew, which launched March 8, 2001, and successfully docked with the International Space Station the next day. During the expedition, Voss conducted spacewalks in both U.S. and Russian space suits and was the first astronaut to operate the Space Station Robotic Manipulator System, Canadarm2. He logged more than nine hours of EVA (spacewalk) time during the mission.

"When I was sitting in your place many, many years ago, I didn't really believe that I could achieve something special, but I was able to. I encourage you to continue to seek paths to fulfill your dreams, even when they are hard or filled with risks," Voss said. "You all have something special to bring to the world."

Voss retired from NASA in 2003, and his career is filled with numerous honors and distinctions. He is currently a scholar-in-residence at the University of Colorado Boulder and continues to serve on NASA's Advisory Council.