Education

How Cal Poly influenced a NASA astronaut

Victor Glover, a Cal Poly alumnus, is one of NASA's newest astronauts.
Victor Glover, a Cal Poly alumnus, is one of NASA's newest astronauts. Courtesy photo

Nearly two decades ago while a student at Cal Poly, Victor Glover didn’t envision becoming an astronaut.

But the engineering skills, grit, and strong work ethic that he developed while earning an engineering degree from the university launched a career that could soon land him in outer space.

Glover, 39, is the fourth Cal Poly graduate to be named an astronaut by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. He was selected along with seven others in NASA’s 21st astronaut class in 2013 — a pool of more than 6,100 candidates.

He completed his two-year astronaut training on July 8, which makes him eligible for missions.

“It will be unreal if a mission happens,” Glover said in a phone conversation last week. “I find myself saying that a lot. I’ve had conversations with people about the potential for a journey to Mars. I can’t believe I’m having this type of conversation. Any mission will be a profound and life-changing experience — like watching the birth of my first child or flying a plane for the first time.”

Glover, who graduated from Cal Poly in 1999, visited the campus on Thursday, touring a welding lab and giving a talk titled “Engineering Possibilities.”

He told The Tribune that Cal Poly heavily influenced his formative years.

First, it was at Cal Poly that he met his wife.

It was at Cal Poly that he learned how to push through adversity as a member of the wrestling team, and as a student in a demanding major.

As a wrestler, he had to be in top physical condition, which helped develop good training habits for his U.S. Navy career and astronaut-related conditioning. He learned to anticipate moves and prepare countermoves.

In class, he learned that when he struggled, he could give up or try harder, Glover said.

“I remember failing a fluid mechanics class at Cal Poly taught by Jim Locascio,” Glover said. “But he told me I could do the work if I tried and if I focused. I began reviewing the material more closely and going to his office hours and finally starting to believe in myself.”

The second time around, Glover earned an A in Locascio’s class, and that set him on his path to a successful and ambitious career.

“That single moment got me to realize that I could do this,” Glover said. “I think before that I always had doubts that I could do engineering work.”

Glover said he doesn’t know when and for how long he could be sent on a space mission, saying, “It could be for a week, or it could be six months.”

Most of the work of an astronaut is on the ground — helping with flight control, assisting other centers with research, giving advice in the development of new vehicles and studying the Russian language to prepare for a potential voyage with a Russian commander to the International Space System.

Until he gets the assignment, which can come at any time, including years from now, he’s on standby.

“You can be an astronaut for 10 or 20 years and fly one mission,” Glover said. “It all depends on NASA’s goals and missions and you’re waiting for that call. We spend most our time on the ground.”

After growing up in Pomona, Calif., and Prosper, Texas, and graduating from Cal Poly, Glover attended flight school in the Navy, eventually reaching the rank of lieutenant commander.

In addition to his Navy experience, he also served as a fellow in U.S. Senator John McCain’s office, helping push for legislation as an aide.

Glover said that while at Cal Poly he remembered seeing a photo of university alum Rick Sturckow in one of his professor’s offices. Sturckow is a retired astronaut and former U.S. Marine.

“I remember thinking how cool that was,” Glover said. “I didn’t know I wanted to be an astronaut at that time, but it got me thinking.”

Glover said that by giving talks he hopes to inspire young students to believe in what they can achieve by committing to hard work.

He also doesn’t mind answering questions such as whether he liked the space travel movie “Interstellar” (he did) and what astronauts eat while in outer space.

“We eat normal foods, but the taste is different apparently,” Glover said. “You can’t simulate the taste. But basically you’re eating chicken or vegetables that are vacuum-packed. I’ve even taken some home for my kids to try.”

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