Space: The Final Frontier. One that is now being explored by a St. John’s University graduate Mark Vande Hei of the class of 1989.
On Sept. 12, 2017 the first Johnnie astronaut was launched into space from Kazakhstan at 3:17 a.m. To celebrate this event, the CSB/SJU Physics Club hosted a viewing of the event in Pellegrene Auditorium, although the time difference allowed for a 4:17 p.m. viewing.
Vande Hei has spent decades working toward this achievement, starting with his time on campus. While at SJU, Vande Hei was a physics
major and prominent member of ROTC.
After graduation, Vande Hei was commissioned by the military, and later became an assistant professor of physics at West Point Academy. He became involved with NASA in 2006, and in 2009 was selected to be a member of the 20th NASA astronaut class.
Throughout his 5 months living on the International Space Station he will join several other NASA astronauts, and the crew will conduct research into the effects of microgravity on manufacturing and will attempt to slow muscle atrophy in low gravity environments.
Vande Hei is also creating an opportunity for students at CSBSJU to learn more about his experience by offering a NASA Inflight Education Downlink session from the International Space Station. This session will be offered on Jan. 29, 2018 and will be open to students and the public. Through this event, the physics department is hoping to encourage students to choose CSB/SJU for the integrative liberal arts education as well as the opportunities of the physics program.
“Mark Vande Hei has inspired students in CSB/SJU physics classes because now students feel a connection for the hard work we are putting in and the results of our fantastic curriculum, since he was in our position learning physics from the same profs and using the same equipment,” sophomore physics student Hugo Virgen said.
Although Vande Hei has had an accomplished career in his field, he never aspired to be an astronaut while at CSB/SJU; however, this was one of benefits of his integrative college experience.
“I think if you were to ask him, the experience that he had here was more of a springboard for his life than for anything specific in it. [His education here] gave him the foundation, the confidence, and the inspiration to do everything he did post-graduation—not just becoming involved with NASA,” said Dave Deland of Institutional Advancement.
CSB/SJU is one of the few liberal arts school in the midwest to boast an astronaut alumni, and hopes to encourage current and future students to work to achieve prestigious positions such as this, particularly with the benefit of a liberal arts education.
“[Vande Hei] is demonstrating to prospective students that Bennie and Johnnie alumni are doing fantastic things all around the world,” Virgen said.
Vande Hei is proving that not even the sky is the limit for Bennies and Johnnies.