When Brew, Charley and I went to Houston on book tour, we took some time to visit the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Not only did we get a private tour of the facility, but our family was able to have lunch with two different astronauts. There are currently 51 U.S. astronauts, and we got to meet TWO!


It seems odd that we should get this special treatment at NASA, but it turns out that most of the astronauts and many of the personal who work there are hikers and they wanted to talk to us about getting outside. (It kinda makes sense that after spending weeks with limited range in the international space station, these folks might want to get out and stretch their legs.) We found out that NASA even trains their astronauts by enrolling them in winter backpacking trips with NOLS.

One of the astronauts that we had lunch with, Dr. Tom Marshburn, completed a solo thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail as a college student in 1980. (So when your parents, friends, or college advisor tell you that taking 5 months off to go hike may prevent you from getting a job, you can tell them that you are training to be an astronaut!)


The other astronaut we met, Dottie Metcalf-Hiddenburger, is originally from Colorado. Growing up she hiked several 14ers and then enjoyed hiking in the Pacific Northwest where she worked as a high school teacher before joining the team at NASA. Brew would vouch that, like hiking, being a teacher prepares you for the high-stress, quick thinking, problem solving requirements of being an astronaut.


When we were visiting with these two inspiring and accomplished individuals it was evident that their background in hiking and a love for adventure was sometime that had helped them as an explorer in space. Dr. Marshburn actually said, “being an astronaut is just taking a camping trip in outer space.”

He gave us a list of comparisons that started with a lack of clothes and showers, and included a repetitive diet, physical discipline, mental fortitude, ability to be alone, and so forth and so on. However, he did say that you don’t get as dirty in space. (That must be nice.) He said that your clothes don’t stick to you like they do on the trail, so you feel a lot cleaner. But you also don’t shed old, dead, skin cells like you would on earth. So when you get back inside our atmosphere is feels like you have a thick layer of grime on your body.



Our personal interaction at NASA was the highlight of our day. And after visiting the current mission control, the Apollo control room, and a simulation facility our tour ended. As we drove off, I wondered if it was too late for me to become an astronaut. I think it probably is. But I love that the tenets of working in space include a desire to explore new places and explore your own limits. I guess that I’ll just have to keep doing that with my feet on the ground.