Forget that bearded guy who portrays “The most interesting man in the world” in those Dos Equis beer commercials. Story Musgrave might take that title in real life.
To call Musgrave simply a former astronaut is to sell his life way short, as the about 40 people who listened to him share his experiences and insights Friday at Danville’s Community Arts Center quickly learned. When Musgrave came to the end of his hour-long talk and asked for five more minutes, the audience enthusiastically nodded its approval.
Farm kid. Marine. Test pilot. Astronaut. Space walker. Designer and fixer of the Hubble Space Telescope. Neuro surgeon. Tree surgeon. Landscape architect. Designer of Disney rides. College professor. Environmentalist. Photographer. Artist. Farmer.
And, at 72, father of a daughter he affectionately calls “little Story.”
“My oldest kid is 50 and my youngest is 5, and we’re working on another one,” Musgrave said. “Hey, it’s not over till it’s over, right? I was always a damn good dad, but I’m a great dad in my 70s.”
Jean Crawford-Griffin and her grandson Ryan were duly impressed.
“He’s just incredible,” Crawford-Griffin gushed afterward. “He’s just a renaissance transformational kind of motivator. I don’t think there anyone else like him in the world.”
Musgrave’s presentation was titled “The Beauty and Glory of Space Flight” and it certainly lived up to that billing. He shared his own photos and others he borrowed gorgeously depicting jets in flight, Space Shuttles blasting off at sunrise and the swirling, colorful plume trails left in their wake, Coca-Cola floating in zero gravity, super novas and hurricanes and solar eclipses seen from space.
“I carried a camera every time I went up,” he said.
Musgrave’s life story proved equally as fascinating as his extensive space travels. The first picture he put up on the screen showed him in diapers digging around in the yard “looking at a rock or a cockroach or whatever it was.” Musgrave said he was “in the game” at age 3, possessed with “the energy to explore and wondering what’s going on around you.”
Growing up on a farm in Massachusetts in the 1930s, Musgrave was at work fixing farm equipment and building river rafts at age 5, and a full-fledged farm hand by 12. He was so busy on the farm that he didn’t have time to complete high school. He joined the Marines and at 18 was in charge of maintaining three bombers in Korea.
“I have seven graduate degrees but that’s not why they asked me to design and repair the Hubble Telescope. They asked because I was a farm kid and Marine mechanic,” he said. “There’s a bunch of astronauts who were raised on the Tube who can’t even change a tire on their car. Being a farm kid has served me well throughout my life.”
That a rural upbringing could lead to such a super-charged life inspired Crawford-Griffin and 11-year-old Ryan.
“I like how he grew up on a farm and how his daughter is so special to him,” Ryan said, adding that Musgrave’s space photography was “awesome” as well.
Musgrave left the Marines to earn a medical degree at Columbia University in New York City and came to Lexington to do his surgical internship at the University of Kentucky after falling in love with the area’s horse farms during a visit as a 16-year-old. He liked to parachute into parties in those days, he said.
He was planning to be a brain surgeon when “space flight happened”¿and NASA lured him away from Lexington and into the space program. He flew on six Space Shuttle missions and performed the first shuttle space walk during Challenger’s first flight. He’s been associated with the Hubble Telescope, which he calls “the monster,” since its inception 38 years ago and was dispatched to repair what Time magazine labeled “NASA’s $1.5 billion mistake”¿in a cover story in the 1990s.
He drew chuckles from the audience when he told them, straight-faced, “I’m not much of risk taker. I’m pretty grounded.”
Musgrave lives on a 140-acre farm outside of Orlando, Fla., where he raises palm trees from seed and landscapes his property.. He bragged about his compost pile that is 30-feet tall. One week a month he travels to Pasadena, Calif., where he is a professor of design at Art Center College. His young daughter Story is only allowed to watch television and movies in Spanish and is already bilingual, he said.
When asked how he’s lived such a broad and accomplished life, Musgrave said he’s been blessed with relentless curiosity and good luck along the way.
“I just jumped into life and did the best I could, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time,” he explained.
He said he draws inspiration from great athletes and flashed a picture of Secretariat pulling away from the field at Belmont on the screen.
“You worked the hardest, you gave the most,” he said of the great horse. “When I walk out that door, that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Yes, he is convinced there is other intelligent life out there, even without proof, considering the vastness of the universe.
“Life is everywhere out there is can be, which means trillions of places,” he said. “It’s important that we accept that even before we make contact. The universe doesn’t revolve around us. We are simply a part of the universe.”