Leroy Chiao knew he wanted to be an astronaut when he was 8 years old.

In 1969, Chiao remembered looking up at the moon and thinking about Neil Armstrong and the rest of the Apollo 11 crew walking on its surface. It was then he worked harder in school to get to space.

“I had always been interested in airplanes and rockets,” Chiao said before his lecture. “That event crystallized in my mind, ‘Wow. I want to be like those guys.’”

Chiao was the second speaker in the 2019-20 Lyceum Lecture Series. Chiao is a former astronaut with three trips to space in a 15-year career and is the founder and CEO of OneOrbit, an education and workshop program for workplaces and schools.

In his lecture, Chiao, who was the commander of the International Space Station, focused on the dangers of complacency and how NASA experienced them first hand in three deadly instances.

“Complacency causes you to lose efficiency,” he said.

The first incident was the Apollo 1 mission in 1967. NASA standards allowed pure oxygen, which is highly flammable, to be pumped into the cabin of the shuttle because that’s what they always did, Chiao said. A spark occurred and ignited the shuttle and killed three U.S. astronauts.

Chiao discussed the Challenger explosion in 1986 when the fuel burned through and killed seven crew members on board. NASA officials knew the fuel pipes became eroded, but it had never exploded before.

In 2003, shuttle Columbia exploded upon reentry after a piece of foam hit the wing at 500 mph, damaging it, Chiao said.

The foam had been seen previously but NASA engineers didn’t think anything of the issue, he said.

“Everything was fine until it wasn’t,” he said.

Chiao said instances of complacency go well beyond space and can be found in any workplace.

He said the way past complacency is hard work and constant training. Chiao made three trips to space with each trip came extensive training.

His first space walk required a 1 ½ years of training and his third required 3 ½ years with half the time spent in Russia.

Extensive training can be mirrored in any industry. He told the predominantly school-aged audience that even after graduation, their learning will continue.

“Life is a lifelong process of training,” Chiao said. “You have to stay out of your comfort zone. The comfort zone is the enemy of your success.”

Audience member Cathie Gleinser, 64, of Victoria, attends most of the series and has for years.

She enjoyed the photos Chiao shared with the crowd and said it was awe inspiring.

“It was amazing,” said Gleinser about the talk. “It was thought provoking.”

While in space, Chiao took nearly 16,000 photos of earth. Looking at the planet from above was one of his favorite parts about space travel.

It put things in perspective and he learned not to stress about the small inconveniences in life, he said.

Chiao noted his name in the history books as the first person of Chinese heritage to be an astronaut.

He said having parents who are immigrants gave him an interesting perspective in U.S. and Chinese culture.

Chiao encouraged the crowd to find their dream, map out a plan, and pursue it.

“If you don’t try, you’re not going to get there,” he said.

Samantha Douty is the education reporter at the Victoria Advocate.  She grew up in Corpus Christi and graduated from UT-Arlington with a bachelor's in journalism. 

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(8) comments

Roy McLaurin

So we are left telling people that oxygen is flammable because he said so?

Glenn Wilson

No Roy, we're not. Feel free to correct whoever said it. That's partly what the Comments section is for.

Roy McLaurin

What is pure oxygen? And oxygen is flammable ?

Glenn Wilson

Oxygen is an element. When uncombined with anything else it's pure oxygen. No, it's not flammable, but it will intensify the combustion of anything burning.

Daniel Martin

To have fire there are 3 things that must be present. Heat+Fuel+Oxygen. If any one of those is missing nothing is flammable.

Grace Butler

Additionally, it wasn't his space walks that took a year and a half and three and a half years of training, it was the missions themselves that took that long to train for.

Grace Butler

The Apollo 1 incident did not happen to a shuttle, but a capsule. The Shuttle wouldn't be build for decades more.

Glenn Wilson

"NASA standards allowed pure oxygen, which is highly flammable..." -- Oxygen supports/accelerates/intensifies combustion of anything flammable but is not flammable itself. The death of Apollo 1 astronauts, Grissom, White and Chaffee was caused by the lack of a latch inside the Apollo to open the hatch, so they were trapped inside; design error, not complacency.

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