Astronaut and mountain climber Scott E. Parazynski takes questions from the crowd attending his lecture series on April 5.

Astronaut Overcomes Extreme Environments

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Dr. Scott E. Parazynski was the inaugural lecturer in the John Glenn Lecture Series in Earth and Planetary Sciences held April 5 at Muskingum University. The event was part of the Inauguration Week celebration for Muskingum’s 21st President, Dr. Susan S. Hasseler.

Parazynski, an astronaut who flew on STS-95 in 1998 with Sen. John Glenn, spoke highly of his childhood hero.

“To get a chance to fly in space with your boyhood hero it’s like playing soccer with Pelé or basketball with Michael Jordan or doing astrophysics with Albert Einstein,” said Parazynski.

Their flight into space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery was just one of Parazynski’s five trips into space throughout his career. While aboard Discovery Parazynski also served as Glenn’s doctor.

“It was kind of high stressed to be Senator Glenn’s personal physician on that mission,” said Parazynski. “We were doing a lot of medical research and also he was 77 years of age at the time so we didn’t know exactly [how] the spaceflight environment would influence his physiology.”

Parazynski’s other missions included STS-66 in 1994, STS-86 in 1997, STS-100 in 2001, and his final mission STS-120 in 2007.

From a young age, Parazynski knew his life path would take him to outer space.

“I had always wanted to become an astronaut,” said Parazynski. “My father worked on the Apollo program when I was very young so I had a front row seat to all the early Apollo rocket launches.”

After completing a biology degree from Stanford University, Stanford Medical School, and 22 months of residency, Parazynski was selected to join the NASA Astronaut Corps. He said these two passions are grounded in his interests in the human race.

“As a very young boy I was interested in the pioneering astronauts and cosmonauts as well as people that went to high altitudes…so just fascination with human performance was just something that really fascinated me as a kid…and then moreover I really wanted to help people,” said Parazynski.

Parazynski sees the future of space focused on exploring Mars and believes the possibility will come to terms in as little as 30 years.

“I’m really excited by what is in store for the future for human space flight and I’m confident that the work we did in my career will kind of be the stepping stone for eventually going to Mars which I believe is the ultimate human destiny to look for signs of life and also to eventually colonize,” said Parazynski.

He is the only person to have both flown into space and step foot on the highest point on earth, Asia’s Mount Everest.

“My experiences on Mount Everest quite honestly were some of the most difficult things I’ve ever done,” said Parazynski.

After 59 days during his first climb of Everest, he woke one morning with pains in his lower back. He was one day away from summiting the top and he decided to return to the ground.

“[It was] a real soul searching moment for me because I didn’t know if I would ever be able to return but I made the right decision,” said Parazynski.

Upon returning home he discovered a ruptured disc was what caused the pain he felt during his journey. A year after his initial attempt in 2008, Parazynski reached the peak of Everest on May 20, 2009.

“I like telling people the things that come to us the hardest typically mean the most to us,” said Parazynski.

After explorations in space, climbing mountains, and hobbies such as deep sea scuba diving, Parazynski’s newer focus is on developing technology that could assist people living in under developed countries through his tech startup company, Fluidity Technologies.

“I’m developing robotic hand controllers that allow us to move through all of our physical and virtual spaces,” said Parazynski.

Parazynski attributes his diverse background to providing him experiences that took part in teaching him life skills.

“The same lessons in teamwork, leadership, preparation and resilience that I have from those environments play really well for what I am doing today,” said Parazynski.

Parazynski was inducted into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame in May 2016 and resides in Texas. See photos and videos from Inauguration Week.

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