Among 50-Year Reunion Guests, Astronaut Bob Crippen

We hold hundreds of events at the Alumni Center annually, so it’s hard to pick favorites. But the graciousness and good spirits of the guests at the 50-Year Reunion put it right up there.

It’s always fun to see who turns up — last year’s Class of ’59 Reunion brought opera star Barbara Smith Conrad back to campus. This year’s Class of ’60 gathering drew prominent former astronaut and space-center administrator Bob Crippen.

Crippen piloted the first Space Shuttle mission in 1981, then commanded three other shuttle missions. He also directed NASA’s colossal Kennedy Space Center — with its high technology, life-and-death responsibilities, and thousands of employees — for several years in the ’90s.

He received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and he even has a hometown elementary school named after him (its rocket-ship sign reads “Soaring to New Heights”).

He began pursuing a career as an astronaut in earnest at age 28. He didn’t enter space until he was 43.

But the years were worth it, Crippen says.

“To be able to look out the window and view the spaceship Earth that we all are lucky enough to live on is a marvelous experience that will stay with me forever,” he says.

The 8 1/2 minutes it took to get from sitting on the launch pad to hurtling through space at 17,500 miles per hour were always a thrill, he says. And though bobbing around in zero gravity made some astronauts a bit sick, Crippen never minded it. 

Crippen enjoys the camaraderie of reunions — he organized his 50-year high school reunion back in Porter, Texas, not long ago.

Here at the UT reunion, which opened last night and continues through tomorrow with speakers, dinners, and campus tours, Crippen is enjoying catching up with a couple old friends and making new ones. Around 160 alumni and spouses are in attendance.  

In the all-male boardinghouse where he lived just off campus during college, Crippen remembers all kinds of hijinks. The chemistry majors, for instance, planted some kind of granular powder that exploded when anybody walked on it.

“I don’t think the lady who ran the boardinghouse was very happy about that one,” he says with a laugh. “It’s fun to catch up on the old times.”


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