Last week, retired U.S. Air Force Col. and NASA Hall of Fame astronaut Fred Gregory visited campus to present LSU Physics & Astronomy students Amy LeBleu and Harvey Shows with Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) scholarships. The ASF was created by the six surviving Mercury 7 astronauts – Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton – to encourage students to pursue scientific endeavors and keep America on the leading edge of technology.
Scholarship recipient Amy LeBleu, a fifth-year senior at LSU double majoring in physics and biochemistry and minoring in psychology, has explored the dust produced by the violent explosion of massive stars with LSU Physics & Astronomy Ball Family Distinguished Professor Geoffrey Clayton. Scholarship recipient Harvey Shows is a senior at LSU majoring in physics and minoring in math. As an undergraduate researcher, he has been studying the nuclear structure of Beryllium-8, an unstable isotope of a relatively rare element in the universe often used to study cosmological events such as the reactions inside stars.
“I am fascinated by how things work,” Shows said. “I have always loved to take things apart and figure out how to put them back together.”
Read more about the ASF scholarship recipients here.
Gregory was also a special guest at a morning session of our Hidden Figures Revealed event on Friday, March 17, where more than 400 female students from local high schools watched Hidden Figures in the LSU Student Union Theater and engaged with inspiring women in science, technology, engineering and math. Gregory was a research test pilot at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia near the time that Katherine Johnson, renowned NASA computer and one of the heroines in Hidden Figures, was providing flight trajectory calculations pivotal to our earliest human missions into space and to the moon. Gregory later guided both the Space Shuttle Challenger and the Space Shuttle Discovery into orbit. He was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2004.
During his introduction to our morning screening of Hidden Figures, Col. Gregory spoke about his exploration of the universe beyond our atmosphere and offered motivational words to young students aspiring to pursue careers in STEM.
“At a very early age, I decided that I wanted to fly,” Gregory said. “I didn’t want to study science or math – I wanted to fly. But in order to fly, I had to understand science and math. One followed the other.”
Col. Gregory encouraged students in attendance to do something tomorrow they thought was impossible yesterday.
“When I was growing up, there were a lot of challenges I saw in the future,” Gregory said during his introduction to LSU Hidden Figures Revealed. “My dad always told me that I had to do something tomorrow that I thought was impossible yesterday. Each day, the bar is raised. When you have that [perspective] as a part of your journey to discovery, you won’t believe how excited you can become studying medicine, or math, or science. You go into studying science to try to do something tomorrow [that was impossible yesterday].”
Just imagine a pill that would cure all cancer, Gregory told high school students attending the Hidden Figures Revealed event. “Right now, it’s impossible. But maybe tomorrow it won’t be, with your help. With a little imagination, you are going to come up with solutions to impossible things.”
At a time when women’s rights and other civil rights were not where they are today, Col. Gregory worked alongside “more women engineers than I had ever seen before in my entire life” at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where the story behind Hidden Figures took place. “They were coming up with the advanced systems that we use routinely now,” Gregory said.
“In all of your life, your goals should be to have fun, and to make a contribution,” Gregory said in parting. “If you do that, every night before you go to bed you’ll have a big smile on your face.”
Watch a live-stream of Col. Fred Gregory's introduction to Hidden Figures Revealed here.