Astronaut Jerry Ross featured during awards ceremony for MSU scholars

Contact: Allison Matthews

Mississippi State Astronaut Scholars Britain Steele, left, and Emma Wade, right, are pictured with retired NASA Astronaut Jerry Ross
Mississippi State Astronaut Scholars Britain Steele, left, and Emma Wade, right, are pictured with retired NASA Astronaut Jerry Ross, who gave a keynote address during an awards ceremony hosted by the university’s Shackouls Honors College and its Office of Prestigious External Scholarships and the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. (Photo by Megan Bean)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University’s 2022-23 Astronaut Scholars were recognized during an awards ceremony this week that featured keynote speaker Jerry Ross, a NASA astronaut who played an integral role in the nation’s space program from the 1980s through his 2012 retirement and was a “frequent flyer” on critical pioneering space missions.

Britain Steele and Emma Wade, who were announced as MSU’s newest Astronaut Scholars this summer, were honored during the program with framed award certificates prior to Ross’s address. Steele—a two-time Astronaut Scholar—is a junior aerospace engineering major from Mount Juliet, Tennessee, and Wade is a senior computer science major from Decatur, Alabama, who also has received the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.

The prominent Astronaut Scholar awards originated when the six surviving Mercury 7 astronauts in 1984 founded the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation—initially called the Mercury 7 Foundation—to ensure that the U.S. remained at the forefront of technology and innovation. Other NASA astronauts continued foundation support and created a legacy of paying forward the mentorship, networking and friendship that have encouraged over 600 college students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics at 45 of the nation’s best universities. The scholarships provide up to $15,000 each in addition to giving recipients a lifelong affiliation with ASF.

MSU connects scholars to the ASF application through the Shackouls Honors College’s Office of Prestigious External Scholarships, led by Director David Hoffman, who also is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures.

Emma Wade and Britain Steele listen to remarks by retired NASA Astronaut Jerry Ross.
Emma Wade and Britain Steele listen to remarks by retired NASA Astronaut Jerry Ross. (Photo by Megan Bean)

Ross, an alumnus of Purdue University who began his career with the U.S. Air Force, has flown in 21 types of aircraft, holds a private pilot’s license and has logged more than 4,100 flying hours, the majority in military aircraft. His 1980 selection as an astronaut paved the way for him to eventually become a veteran of seven space flights with more than 1,393 hours in space, including 58 hours and 18 minutes of extravehicular activity, or EVA, on nine spacewalks. These seven flights comprise a world record that Ross now shares with one other NASA astronaut. Both his number of spacewalks and time on spacewalks are all time second highest among NASA astronauts. Ross has received numerous accolades, including 10 USAF medals, 15 NASA medals, three American Astronautical Society Victor A. Prather Awards for spacewalking achievements and four Flight Achievement Awards. He was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2014.

The author of “Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer” (2013, Purdue University Press) made remarks about his life and space experiences and narrated “home-video” style videos made during space flights. These included imagery of significant moments of innovation that marked historic milestones of the space program, as well as light-hearted recordings of Ross and fellow astronauts doing tricks and playing games while experiencing gravity in space.

When asked about his advice to students who would like to pursue a similar career, Ross said, “My main message is whatever program you want to do, including becoming an astronaut, set that as your goal, with an understanding that you have to have a certain amount of innate capabilities that make that goal even remotely feasible. That being the case, then you’ve got to study hard, you’ve got to work hard—and, very importantly, in any avenue in life you can’t give up too easily. Because you’re not going to succeed the first time you do almost anything—they’re going to tell you to 'try again,' or 'come back later,' or 'not today' or something like that, and you’ve got to take that as a challenge.”

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