Newswise — Nearly 6,400 people applied to be in NASA's Astronaut Class of 2013. Victor Glover was one of just eight who were chosen.
Astronaut is, of course, among the most rare and elite of careers; there have been fewer than 350 NASA astronauts since the first seven were chosen in 1959.
For Glover, a California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo alumnus, the journey to the moon — and maybe to Mars, someday — began with education. And, more specifically, with Mr. Hargrove, his fifth grade teacher. The teacher had noticed Glover's progress in math and science and told him, "You would make a good engineer."
The 10-year-old had no idea what an engineer did, but he was intrigued and, most important, inspired. "That seed was planted," he recalls. "And that really stuck with me."
Which is not to say that it was a foregone conclusion he'd be a spaceman. "Sure, I wanted to be an astronaut as a child, but I also wanted to be a policeman and a movie star," laughs Glover, an active U.S. Navy commander as well as a NASA Active Astronaut, meaning he is eligible for flight assignment.
Putting in the Work
By 16, Glover, a native of Pomona, California, knew he wanted to go to college and that he wanted to study engineering. For the high school junior, the perfect school meant one that also offered Division I football and wrestling. The rest, though, was unclear — including how he'd afford school.
"It was very important to me that my parents not go broke by my going to college," he says.
His dad urged his son to focus on a campus that would offer everything Glover was looking for: athletics and engineering as well as affordability. Glover soon turned his attention to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Once there, the sophomore had a second transformation, also through the help of a gifted educator.
He had failed an engineering course and the instructor, Jim LoCascio, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering, offered Glover some tough love.
"He said to me, 'You've got to put in the work. I'll help you, but you've got to put in the work.' That right there changed the way I thought of college," remembers Glover.
Dr. LoCascio also encouraged him to break out of his comfort zone to take advantage of all the opportunities the campus and Cal Poly SLO's College of Engineering offered.
"It was kind of like that fifth-grade moment, but a little tougher," Glover explains. "It really made me reflect on who I was and what I was doing there. Now, every time I go back to Cal Poly, I look for LoCascio; he is someone that I will always be grateful for."
A New Academic Rigor
The demanding coursework at Cal Poly SLO pushed the budding engineer to realize his full potential. Today, Glover advocates for the campus as part of the College of Engineering's Dean's Advisory Council.
"Academically, the engineering program was very rigorous; it still is one of the top engineering programs in the country," notes Glover, who also serves on the Athletic Director's Council. "In my current role, I see firsthand how what [Cal Poly SLO is] doing is very forward-thinking."
For instance, the campus requires all freshman students to choose a major upon enrolling; entering as an undeclared student is simply not an option.
"This means you have to do your homework before even entering the school; it forces you to jump in running as a freshman," says Glover, adding that the university's expanding facilities and collaboration between colleges also make it a stand-out institution.
"Cal Poly provided me with the opportunities to do the things that I had dreamed of doing," he explains, emphasizing that nothing about his academic career could compare with meeting his wife, Dionna Glover, who was then studying child development at SLO.
It was also at the campus that Glover assisted in developing the first student-funded outreach and retention center in the CSU. He went on to graduate in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in general engineering and in 2007 earned a master's in flight test engineering from Air University and Edwards Air Force Base. Two more master's degrees followed in 2009 and 2010.
A Man on Mars?
Now stationed at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, Glover may spend his days doing underwater exercises in a 280-pound suit, practicing his Russian (the better to communicate with Russian aerospace counterparts), undergoing flight training, analyzing scientific research, or helping to build spacecraft.
Everything he does, along with extensive medical and fitness exams, is designed to ensure he's in peak physical and mental condition should he be called upon to take part in a space mission.
The emotional training, he stresses, is just as important as the physical. Through simulations, astronauts prepare for worst-case scenarios and practice how they will react in trying and even life-threatening situations.
"Launching up into the sky, you have to work through emotions that not many human beings have experienced; it's just not a normal human experience," Glover says.
The same athletic skills that fueled three years of football and wrestling at Cal Poly SLO enabled Glover to complete NASA's grueling two-year Astronaut Candidate Training. It also deepened a respect for the teamwork needed for any successful journey to space.
"Being on a team teaches you how to deal with the ups and downs, the wins and losses, together," he explains. "Human space flight is a team sport."
With any luck, a world-class team at NASA will also propel him into worlds unknown. He is one of just 44 NASA Active Astronauts.
If he does make it to space, Glover's mission may be one for the history books. That's because his class was specially selected for "long-duration missions," meaning there's a chance these astronauts could visit the moon, an asteroid or even Mars.
"It may be possible that I'll still be young enough" to go, says Glover, who's 41. "Or maybe I'll be lucky enough to build some of the pieces of the spacecraft that gets the guys to Mars.
"My selfish goal is, I want to walk on the moon or orbit the moon and see the Earth with my own two eyes," says Glover, who has earned a Navy Commendation Medal and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals.
"My professional goal is, I want to leave the world a better place than I entered it."
Not a Scene Out of 'Star Wars'
If astronauts are known for being brainiacs, Glover wouldn't mind if they were recognized, too, for their grit. "I don't like it when people say, 'You must be smart,'" he says. "Instead I wish they'd say, 'Wow, you must work really hard.'"
"I cannot control my IQ, but I can control what I put my effort into," he adds, nearly echoing the words of his Cal Poly San Luis Obispo professor.
He also sets out to quash popular misconceptions about space, such as fantastical landscapes and alien beings in far-flung galaxies. "Living in space is a lot closer to going camping than a scene out of 'Star Wars,'" he says plainly.
But few things give the father of four daughters as much pleasure as working with young children.
"My favorite part about being an astronaut is the outreach," Glover says. "It's about so much more than the training and the work that we do. I'm not only encouraging kids to do their homework, eat their veggies, and listen to their parents, but I'm talking to these future generations that are very science- and technology-literate."
Being an astronaut, he stresses to them, is so much more than excelling in science and math.
"If you work hard enough, you will find your passion. Like my being a fifth-grader and not knowing what an engineer was," he says. "I grew this passion from a belief."