Honorary doctorate speech broadcast live from space

The astronaut Andrew Feustel was awarded the honourary degree by Purdue University whilst working on the International Space Station

Purdue University connected live to the International Space Station to award NASA astronaut and alumnus Andrew J. “Drew” Feustel an honorary doctorate during its spring commencement ceremonies at the West Lafayette campus.

Feustel, a Purdue College of Science graduate (BS ’89, MS ’91) currently stationed aboard the ISS, received an honorary Doctor of Science degree via a live link to the ISS during the Friday evening (May 11) ceremony in Purdue’s Elliott Hall of Music.

Ordinarily, a Purdue dean places the ceremonial hood on honorary degree recipients, but for obvious logistical reasons, an exception was made in this case. Fellow Boilermaker and NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, who is also stationed on the ISS, stood in and placed the hood on Feustel. Purdue alumnus Gary Horlacher (BSE ’89 interdisciplinary engineering) served as the honorary capsule communicator (CAPCOM) at Johnson Space Center in Houston for the link with the ISS.

Both astronauts made remarks to graduates during the ceremony. Purdue President Mitch Daniels also addressed graduates, encouraging them to rise to the world’s grand challenges as so many Boilermakers before them have done. Daniels’ remarks and the honorary degree conferral were broadcast live on NASA TV.

Drew Feustel’s courage on behalf of our nation as he works to make the next Giant Leap in space science and exploration gives us all much to be proud of. – Mitch Daniels, Purdue University

“Boilermakers are known for making Giant Leaps for the benefit of humankind, from Neil Armstrong’s historic first step on the moon to today’s plant scientists helping feed the world’s growing population. Drew Feustel’s courage on behalf of our nation as he works to make the next Giant Leap in space science and exploration gives us all much to be proud of,” Daniels said.

Feustel earned a bachelor’s degree in solid earth sciences from the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences in the College of Science and a master’s degree in geophysics from Purdue. He is a veteran of three NASA spaceflights and is currently assigned to Expedition 55/56 aboard the ISS, where he and his crewmates are working on about 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.

He has spent a total of 80 days in space, including 51 days in space on this, his third mission, and has conducted seven spacewalks totalling 48 hours and 28 minutes of spacewalking time. He is scheduled to return to Earth in October.

Before joining NASA in 2000, he was a geophysicist for the Engineering Seismology Group in Ontario, Canada, and an exploration geophysicist for Exxon Mobil Exploration Co. His first spaceflight was the STS-125 final mission to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009, followed by Space Shuttle Endeavor’s final mission to the International Space Station on STS-134, where he served as the lead spacewalker in 2011.

Purdue, known as the Cradle of Astronauts, has graduated 24 NASA astronauts, including the first and most recent people to walk on the moon, along with hundreds of others who work at NASA and in the space industry. More than one-third of all U.S. spaceflights with humans aboard have included at least one Boilermaker. By the end of 2018, Purdue astronauts will have spent the equivalent of more than 1,100 days in space.