As a video of a satellite orbiting the Earth projected onto a screen, people filed into the Driscoll Alumni Center Auditorium at the University of Toledo.
Students, faculty, and community members listened closely as Robert Dempsey, NASA’s flight director for the International Space Station at Johnson Space Center’s Mission Control in Houston, gave a glimpse into his job of guiding human space flights.
During his presentation, “Houston, We Have a Problem — When Things Go Wrong on the International Space Station,” the UT alumnus talked about what he does as the flight director as well as the space station’s innerworkings.
Dr. Robert Dempsey, NASA flight director and University of Toledo alumnus, speaks about space flights and exploration Thursday at the University of Toledo Driscoll Alumni Center.
“The roots in what I do today, I got from my time here at the University of Toledo,” Mr. Dempsey told the audience.
“I learned a lot of things — obviously physics and astronomy — but I also learned how to problem solve, ... and what we do at Mission Control is basically problem solve.”
Hearkening back to such notable space films as Apollo 13, Mr. Dempsey shared some horror stories he’s experienced while at NASA.
He gave a step-by-step account, with photos, of how NASA responded when the solar arrays that convert energy to electricity on the International Space Station hundreds of miles above Earth were severely damaged.
“What I want you to take away from tonight’s talk is as a flight director we are always trying to anticipate that things can go wrong unexpectedly,” Mr. Dempsey said. “You never know what might happen, and it has ultimate consequences. I am always aware that there is a $100 billion [space station] and people’s lives are in my hands.”
Despite discussing complicated and technical material, Mr. Dempsey was energetic, often drawing laughter from the crowd.
Thomas Johnson, a UT freshman and astrophysics major, said he dreams of one day working at NASA and couldn’t pass on the opportunity to hear the talk.
“When I heard a NASA flight director was here, I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn what it was like to be there and hear straight from someone who’s fairly high up there,” he said.
Mr. Dempsey received master’s and doctoral degrees in physics from UT in 1987 and 1991. He worked as an astronomer on the Hubble Space Telescope from 1992 to 1997 and for United Space Alliance as a command and data handling flight controller from 1997 to 2003. He joined NASA in 2003 as a communications and tracking officer for the International Space Station.
As the United States continues to push the boundaries of astronomical exploration, UT takes pride that one of its alumni plays a crucial role in accomplishing that mission.
Karen Bjorkman, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, said it’s an excellent opportunity for the students to see a real success story that comes from the university.
“It’s good for students to hear of alternative careers,” she said. “People have interest in what NASA does, and it’s good to interact with someone who’s actually doing this.”
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.