The featured commencement speaker for Lehigh’s 2020 and 2021 graduates will be Terry Hart, ‘68, a P.C. Rossin Engineering alumni, Lehigh professor and former NASA astronaut.
Following his graduation, Hart served in the US Air Force as a fighter pilot, worked at Bell Laboratories and served on STS 41-C Challenger’s flight crew on NASA’s 11th Space Shuttle Mission.
Hart currently serves a member of Lehigh’s faculty as a professor of practice in the department of Mechanical Engineering & Mechanics.
Hart is decorated for his military service as well as his career. In addition to being inducted into the Space and Satellite and NJ Aviation Halls of Fame, Hart received the Pride of Pennsylvania Medal, the NASA Space Flight Medal, the U.S. Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Lehigh University Alumni Award.
Hart sat down with The Brown and White to discuss his robust career as well as his commencement address which will be delivered virtually and made available on Friday, May 21 on the university’s commencement website.
Q: What was your undergraduate experience at Lehigh like? How did it guide you to where you are today?
Terry Hart: I got a great education. I enlisted in the Air Force while also working in telecommunications at Bell Laboratories, so I kind of had two parallel careers, both of which my Lehigh education prepared me for quite nicely. I was off to a good start from my four years at Lehigh.
Q: What got you to NASA? What was that like?
TH: NASA was looking to recruit the first new class of astronauts, they hadn’t had any since back during the moon landing, the late 60s early 70s, so they were in a bit of a dry spell and the Space Shuttle was under construction so as it turned out, they decided to hire 35 of us.
We were the largest astronaut class ever hired, usually it is 15-20 every two years. That class had the first six women in it. Sally Ride and I shared an office. We were office mates so we got to know each other quite well and flew together on B-38.
When I applied I had an opportunity to merge those two different careers, my engineering and my flying with the Air Force, which is what made me eligible for the astronaut program.
Q: What have been some highlights of your career?
TH: It’s hard to beat flying space. We were there for three years before the Space Shuttle flew its first mission so we were involved in the early development of procedures and training for the early shuttle missions. The first six missions were flown by the veteran Apollo astronauts. I flew a couple of missions later.
It’s always nice to go into space, but it is particularly nice to partake in the development of a new program. President Regan came into mission control in the middle of my second mission so I got to sit him down at the operator’s console and introduce him to the crew, which was really special.
Q: What brought you back to Lehigh?
TH: Being around young people is always rewarding. I am a bit of a techno-nerd. I love explaining technical things, like mechanics and going to Mars, in ways that anyone can understand.
Q: What was your reaction to being asked to speak at commencement?
TH: It was a wonderful honor to be asked. President Simon asked me right after new years (2020) and of course, I said yes. It is probably the honor of my life, quite frankly.
Q: What can you tell us about your speech? How have you adapted it compared to what you planned to say pre COVID-19?
TH: I definitely related it to the year I graduated Lehigh. 1968 was a pretty bad year in our nation’s history with MLK and Bobby Kenedy being killed and the Vietnam war. I spend a few minutes talking about that era and how we all came through that and now we’ve obviously had another difficult year this year, but we’re coming through it.
Q: What is some advice you would give to this year’s graduates?
TH: The theme that always came through to me, is the necessity for teamwork and how important that is to getting something done. At NASA on the Apollo 13 Mission, the oxygen tank ruptured and the team almost didn’t make it. The teamwork at NASA allowed them to get that crew back safely.
That’s an adventurous example, but there’s adventures through all of our lives where teamwork is ultimately what is important. No matter what you are doing, to accomplish good things you need that teamwork.