The Indiana Senate had the unique opportunity last week to host a conversation with NASA Commander Kevin Ford live from the International Space Station. We watched from our desks as NASA mission control in Houston beamed us through to Commander Ford, who floated into our field of vision on the video screen in the Senate Chamber.
Commander Ford, a Hoosier native and brother of the late Indiana State Sen. David Ford, is just over 100 days in to his five-month stint aboard the space station. He arrived at the station in late October after lifting off from Kazakhstan, and is scheduled to return home in March.
For about 20 minutes, my colleagues and I were able to talk with Commander Ford about his experiences in space. Students across the state were also involved, watching the live conversation from their classrooms.
Nothing like this has ever taken place at the Statehouse before, and I was honored to host such a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Our conversation with Commander Ford certainly left quite an impression on me, as I'm sure it did on my fellow legislators, guests in the gallery and all those watching from home. His presentation was both insightful and inspiring, and I'd like to share with you some of the important themes that resonated with me.
First, he reminded me what it means to be a Hoosier. It means that no matter what we do or where we end up, our Indiana traditions and identity follow us. Clad in an Indiana state flag sweatshirt, Commander Ford told us that, though he hasn't lived in our state for several years now – or even our atmosphere for the past few months – he will always be a Hoosier at heart.
He talked about his strong upbringing and the education he received in Montpelier, Indiana, which inspired him to study math and science and instilled in him the drive to always keep learning. He graduated from Blackford High School and then went on to study engineering at the University of Notre Dame. It was an education that led him to serve in the Air Force – where he earned several commendations and medals, and Ph.D. in Astronautical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1997. In 2000, he was selected to be a NASA pilot.
Commander Ford said scientists aboard the International Space Station, including himself, are currently carrying out about 150 experiments that are helping us as a species learn more about the universe in hopes of improving our lives here on Earth. His story serves as a reminder that, near and far, Hoosiers are doing some remarkable things for this state, country and world.
Second, Commander Ford showed us that collaboration and reaching across borders can help lead to extraordinary achievements. More than 50 countries across the globe are involved with the International Space Station in some way – countries that are very different from one another but that came together and, in Commander Ford's words, "thought about human kind 100 years from now and what we can do now to make a difference in the future."
It was encouraging to hear Commander Ford talk about the research and experiments that are leading to global medical and scientific advancements.
When our conversation ended, I couldn't help but think of the old adage that Henry David Thoreau put much more eloquently than I can:
"In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, they had better aim at something high."
You can watch a live recording of the conversation with Commander Ford at http://www.youtube.com/user/INSenateGOP.