Retired NASA astronaut shares ‘fascinating experiences’ from space, honors next generation during MSU visit

Retired NASA astronaut Fred Gregory speaks to MSU students and others in the Griffis Hall Forum Room.
Fred Gregory, NASA’s first African-American Deputy Administrator, encouraged MSU students to have fun and make a contribution in others’ lives during a Tuesday [Oct. 29] presentation at Mississippi State’s Shackouls Honors College. (Photo by Logan Kirkland)

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Tuesday [Oct. 29] was a memorable day in the lives of MSU Bagley College of Engineering seniors Mary Catherine Beard and Jacob Easley, who each received a $10,000 scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. What made the occasion even more special was receiving these awards from a former NASA astronaut who also shared several inspiring stories.

Fred Gregory, NASA’s first African-American Deputy Administrator, discussed his leadership within NASA, its Space Shuttle program and lessons learned from his 455 total hours in space. His visit on behalf of the Orlando, Florida-based ASF was organized by MSU’s Office of Prestigious External Scholarships and the Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College, in which both Beard and Easley are enrolled.

A native of Washington, D.C., Gregory has extensive experience as an astronaut, test pilot, and manager of flight safety programs and launch support operations. Whether serving as a U.S. Air Force helicopter pilot rescuing civilians in Vietnam, NASA pilot for the Orbiter Challenger or NASA spacecraft commander aboard Discovery and Atlantis, Gregory said every “fascinating experience” always was a mission accomplished because he made a contribution and had fun.

MSU students, administrators and guests look and listen as retired NASA astronaut Fred Gregory gestures to a photo of an airplane.
Whether serving as a U.S. Air Force helicopter pilot rescuing civilians in Vietnam, NASA pilot for the Orbiter Challenger or NASA spacecraft commander aboard Discovery and Atlantis, Fred Gregory said his main goal was to make a contribution and have fun. (Photo by Logan Kirkland)

“As you go on journeys, you think you’re going to know what the outcome will be. You can’t hang on to those ‘best guesses.’ You’ve got to have your mind open and willing to look and learn and discover things,” he said.

Gregory also emphasized to students the benefits of connecting with a mentor who shares similar and different interests. Both of his parents were teachers who recognized and supported his adventurous and curious nature at a young age.

“A mentor should never tell you that you can’t do something,” he said. “My dad was a brilliant guy who shared his love of fast cars and airplanes with me when I was 5 years old. He never told me no. If I asked him if I could do something, his first response was always yes, and he’d wait until I proved to myself that he should have said no.”

Gregory, a 2004 U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame inductee, retired from NASA in 2005. He is currently advising 41 mentees, from Astronaut Scholarship recipients to U.S. Air Force Academy students. Gregory was in the academy's 6th graduating class. His grandson was in the 53rd class and granddaughter in the 54th class, and he is anticipating his great-nieces' graduations in 2022 and 2024. 

“My dad always told me that you’ve got to do something tomorrow that you thought was impossible yesterday. Every day, you’ve got to raise the bar,” Gregory advised students. “You’d be surprised how your drives, needs and motivations change throughout your career. Having fun and making a contribution—this is what you should be aiming for, so at the end of the day, you can have a big smile on your face and say ‘I’ve enjoyed this.’”

In 2017, MSU became the only university in Mississippi invited to partner with the ASF to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM fields, along with NASA research priorities at the undergraduate level. The partnership was made possible by a generous donation from the family of MSU alumnus Ray Gildea and The Kidd Family Trust.

MSU alumnus Ray Gildea, 2019 Astronaut Scholars Mary Catherine Beard and Jacob Easley, and retired NASA astronaut Fred Gregory smile for a group photo.
Fred Gregory, far right, presents senior biomedical engineering major Mary Catherine Beard of Lufkin, Texas, second from left, and senior mechanical engineering major Jacob Easley of Starkville, second from right, each with a $10,000 Astronaut Scholarship on behalf of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Beard and Easley are among just 52 students across the U.S. to receive the prestigious award this year. Joining them is MSU alumnus Ray Gildea, whose family’s generous donation in 2017 enabled MSU’s continued partnership with the ASF. (Photo by Logan Kirkland)

Beard, a biomedical engineering major from Lufkin, Texas, and Easley, a mechanical engineering major from Starkville, are among just 52 students nationwide named to the 2019 Astronaut Scholar Class by the ASF.

Along with awarding one of the largest merit-based monetary scholarships for juniors and seniors in STEM majors, the ASF scholarship program provides opportunities for personal and professional development and helps facilitate lifelong relationships between the scholars and mentors including astronauts, executives and industry leaders.

“It’s donors like Mr. Gildea and the Kidd family who make this opportunity possible and make a world of difference to students like me,” Beard said. “I would like to thank the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation for helping to fund the next generation of engineers and scientists and allowing us to become part of this really special community.”

Easley also expressed appreciation for the Astronaut Scholarship, one of many “neat opportunities that you can get from an education at Mississippi State, especially partnering with the Shackouls Honors College.”

“The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation is connecting us with other scholars who want to make a difference in the world, and it’s great to forge lifelong friendships with them, as well as astronauts, donors like Mr. Gildea and the rest of the Astronaut Scholarship family,” Easley said.

For more on the Shackouls Honors College, visit; Bagley College of Engineering at

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