The University of Wisconsin Rotaract hosted retired astronaut Gregory Harbaugh as the keynote speaker for their first official meeting Monday night.
Harbaugh, who joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1978, spoke about his experiences as an astronaut to UW students. Throughout the course of his career, Harbaugh flew four shuttle missions and spent nearly 818 hours in space. Harbaugh’s lecture, however, was about more than just his time in space.
“This is not going to be your usual, ‘What’s it like to fly in space?’ talk,” Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh used anecdotes from his career with NASA to pass on advice to the crowd of mostly young people. Harbaugh said he hopes to give tomorrow’s leaders the benefit of learning from his mistakes, no matter what they choose to pursue.
Harbaugh, who grew up in a lower middle-class neighborhood in Willoughby, Ohio without any models of achievement surrounding him, said it’s important young people learn from his example.
“If I can do it, you can do it — coming up the path that I did, in the place that I came from, with all of the challenges and adversity that I dealt with,” Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh shared a wide variety of his experiences in space, as well as a collection of pictures from his time in space — most of which he either took or was featured in.
Harbaugh talked about witnessing a view of Earth very few humans ever experience. From space, Harbaugh saw the oil fires burning in Kuwait shortly after the Gulf War.
He also refuted Neil Armstrong’s claim that one cannot see the Great Wall of China from space.
“Neil said you couldn’t,” said Harbaugh. “I contend because I did.”
Rotaract Club, a daughter organization of Rotary Club, is a program which provides networking and professional opportunities to students and conducts philanthropy and volunteering projects.
The first meeting provided an opportunity for the newly formed club to branch out to new members. They also spoke about the upcoming events hosted by the Rotaract Club, including an Earth Day clean-up on Lakeshore Path and an upcoming partnership with the Goodman Community Center for International Woman’s Day.