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April 17, 2014
by Jeff Dodge
When NASA astronaut Dr. Kjell Lindgren travels to the International Space Station next spring, he will wear blood-pressure thigh cuffs to restrict shifts in body fluid during space travel - the very subject of the thesis he wrote to earn a master's degree in cardiovascular physiology from Colorado State University.
Lindgren returned to the Fort Collins campus Thursday to meet university leaders and to pick up CSU mementos and fan wear that he’ll take on his mission to space.
“Just pulling into the parking lot and walking into this building brought back memories of intense thesis writing,” Lindgren said, as he met with faculty in the Physiology Building. “This opportunity really gave me the fundamentals for critical thinking and research. I have very fond memories of my time here.”
The Taiwan-born alumnus, who went on to earn a medical degree and is stationed at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, even encountered Robert Gotshall, a retired professor of Health and Exercise Science, who served on the astronaut’s thesis committee before he graduated in 1996. The two joked about a tough question during Lindgren’s thesis defense.
C.W. Miller, associate head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences, checked out Lindgren’s thesis from the campus library and pulled from it a striking quote, displayed Thursday on a conference-room video monitor: “The question is not really whether we, either as a nation or a planet, will make the Journey. The question is when.”
The quote is attributed to Joseph F. Shea, manager of the Apollo Program, and its inclusion in his thesis was an indication of the journey ahead for Lindgren.
In May 2015, Lindgren will travel to the International Space Station for a six-month mission focused on research projects and maintenance efforts.
During his visit to Fort Collins, the astronaut alumnus had breakfast with the daughter of a mentor, the late Alan Tucker, who was head of the Department of Physiology when Lindgren was a student. He also took a campus tour and met with Provost Rick Miranda and staff in the CSU President’s Office.
While attending CSU, Lindgren conducted research at the NASA Ames Research Center in Sunnyvale, Calif. He also took a class with Dr. Marty Fettman, the physiology professor who became the first veterinarian in space as a payload specialist on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1993.
“I was pretty star-struck being in that class,” Lindgren said, recounting CSU experiences that influenced his career as an astronaut. “I just loved being here.”
Coincidentally, Lindgren will work during his space mission on the NASA twin study involving Susan Bailey, a researcher and associate professor in CSU’s Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. In that project, astronaut Scott Kelly will spend a year on the Space Station while scientists monitor the effects of space on his body; his identical twin brother, Mark, will stay on Earth as an experimental control.
Lindgren will serve as flight engineer on NASA Expedition 44/45. Along with a Russian cosmonaut and an astronaut from Japan, Lindgren will fly to the International Space station aboard a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan. Scott Kelly and two other astronauts will join them on a separate mission.
Lindgren, who was born in Taiwan while his father was serving in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War, grew up in England and received his bachelor’s degree in biology from the Air Force Academy before coming to CSU. He went on to medical school at the University of Colorado, specialized in emergency medicine and, later, aerospace medicine, earning a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, in 2007. He now lives in Houston with his family.
Lindgren joins a long line of astronauts with CSU connections, beginning with the late Walter Schirra, who worked for NASA’s Project Mercury in 1959 and later was an adviser to the CSU College of Engineering. He flew in all three of America’s first space programs - Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.