Astronaut Leroy Chiao is a veteran of four space missions, recently acting as Commander of Expedition 10 aboard the International Space Station. He has logged over 229 days in space - over 36 hours of which were spent in Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA, or spacewalks). He served as a member of the White House appointed Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee.
Dr. Chiao left NASA in 2005 and is involved in entrepreneurial business ventures and works in the US, China, Japan and Russia. He is a director of Excalibur Almaz, a private manned spaceflight company. In addition, he is a director of InNexus, a biotechnology/pharmaceutical development company. Active as a consultant and public speaker, he also serves as the Chairman of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute User Panel, which is attached to the Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Chiao is a director of Challenger Center and of the Committee of 100. He is also an advisor and spokesman for the Heinlein Prize Trust.
Question: What made you want to be an astronaut?
Leroy Chiao: Well, I was an eight-year-old kid when I watched the first Apollo Moon Landing way back in 1969 and there was something about that moment that really stuck in my head. I'd always been interested in space and flying and I was building model rockets and model airplanes, but something about that moment, I can remember like it was yesterday watching the Apollo Lunar Lander approach the surface of the Moon and then later watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin take the first steps on the Moon, and something that day started the dream for me that, hey, I want to be like those guys.
Question: Did your teachers and parents encourage your dream?
Leroy Chiao: Well, you know, all my friends wanted to be astronauts, we all played astronaut outside, you know, and so I'm sure my parents and teachers all though, oh, that's cute. But even for me, it was something I never forgot. It was in the back of my mind, even while I was going to school, but it wasn't until I was at university studying engineering that I thought, well what do I really want to do? And I kind of came back to that and I said, well the degrees I'm trying to get are going to qualify me to apply. And so, that's what I did after I finished my, or after I was getting my doctorates. That's when I first applied to NASA.
Question: What did you have to do to be an astronaut?
Leroy Chiao: Well, the minimum requirements to apply to be a NASA Astronaut are: at least a bachelor's degree in science or engineering, so I was getting that covered; and also, you have to be in good health, which I was in great health, so I didn't have trouble passing the medical. But that's the basic requirements, so it's pretty broad. NASA selects from a broad range of people, in my class alone, there were 23 of us, and there were several folks from the military. The test pilots, flight test engineers. But there are also medical doctors, research engineers, like myself. We even had a physicist and you know, people like that.
So, really it's just – the recommendation that I give people who are interested is study something you are interested in, that you have a passion for because then you're going to do your best and that also qualifies you to apply to be an astronaut.
Recorded on December 16, 2009