More than 60 years have passed since that dream was born.
“From that time forward,” Crouch said, “I believed we would go there during my lifetime and the exploration of space was a new adventure I wanted to be part of.”
Crouch, a former astronaut and 1958 graduate of Polk County High School, will tell the story of going into space at the special event to be held at the first Baptist Church in Benton on May 25. The Polk County Education Foundation has invited Crouch to speak at the scholarship fundraising dinner. He will be showing videos from his two space flights, also.
Crouch said he had tried for almost 35 years before he was finally selected by NASA to fly. Because he was colorblind, Crouch couldn’t be a fighter pilot or a regular astronaut, but eventually, an opening came up that didn't rule him out — as a payload specialist.
Crouch was payload specialist on STS-83, April 4-8, 1997, and STS-94, July 1-17, 1997, and has logged more than 471 hours in space. STS-83, the Microgravity Science Laboratory (MSL-1) Spacelab mission, was cut short because of problems with one of the Shuttle’s fuel cell power units. The mission duration was 95 hours and 12 minutes, traveling 1.5 million miles in 63 orbits. STS-94 was a reflight of the MSL-1 and focused on materials and combustion science research. Mission duration was 376 hours and 45 minutes, traveling 6.3 million miles in 251 orbits of the Earth. He trained as the alternate payload specialist on STS-42, the first International Microgravity Laboratory, which flew in January 1992.
“My story is —to a great extent — about persistence,” he began. “I would like to make the point — for parents and young people — that children should be given the opportunity to experience frustration, rejection and failure while they are young.”
He said if people look at a successful person such as Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King or Helen Keller, “we see that a successful person not only has persistence, but also can be rejected over and over,” before eventually triumphing. He added that, even though frustrated by environment or circumstances and working through several failures, you learn from these experiences and use those lessons to make a more successful stab at their goals the next time.
“As lucky as I feel for having the opportunity to have gone into space, it was a milestone in my life rather than a capstone,” Crouch explained.
He said he is extremely lucky, also, for having one of the most inspirational people he knows — his mother, Maxine Crouch, who resides in Jamestown. “She has a truly indomitable spirit,” he said.
Crouch was born Sept. 12, 1940, in Jamestown and currently resides in Washington, D.C., with his wife, the former Anne Novotny. They have three grown children: Melanie, Kevin and Kenyon. His wife’s mother lives in Marston, Md.
The former astronaut enjoys traveling, photography, sports, camping, hiking, fishing and whitewater rafting.
Crouch graduated from PCHS in 1958 and earned a bachelor of science degree in physics from Tennessee Polytechnic Institute in 1962. He received his master’s of science degree in 1968 and a doctor of philosophy in physics in 1971 from Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
Crouch received the Distinguished Alumni Achievement from Virginia Tech in 1998; the Distinguished Alumnus 1997 from Tennessee Technological University; twice the NASA Space Flight Medal, 1997; the NASA Exceptional Performance Award in 1989; NASA Special Achievement Award, 1983; Certificates for Patents/applications 1975, 1985, 1986 and 1987; Certificates for innovative technology for eight years; and the Floyd Thompson Fellowship, 1979-80.
Retired from NASA and MIT, Crouch stays busy as a consultant, giving inspirational and informative lectures; and has served as liaison for Higher Education for the Exploration Systems Directorate and senior scientist for the International Space Station and the Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences, NASA-HQ.
His other activities include crew training, flight and postflight activities, lead scientist of the Microgravity Space and Applications Division, program scientist on five different Spacelab flights and he has helped organize and has served as co-chair for Microgravity Science Working Groups between NASA and space agencies from the European Space Agency, France, Germany, Japan, and Russia.
He was the founding co-chair of the International Microgravity Science Strategic Planning group consisting of these space agencies plus Canada, and was principal investigator on an experiment that flew in the Materials Experiment Apparatus on the D-1 mission in 1985.
Crouch was group leader and researcher for the NASA Langley Research Center from 1962 to 1985 and was leader of a research group investigating the effects of convection on semiconductor materials’ properties. From 1977 to 1985, he was a principal investigator in the MSAD flight program.
He has done research in various techniques and types of semiconductor crystal growth, electric and optical properties of materials, electronic devices for remote sensing and flat panel displays, and heat shield protection for re-entry space vehicles. This research resulted in the publication of more than 40 technical paper and over 50 technical conference reports.
He is a member of American Physical Society, American Association for Crystal Growth, Association of Space Explorers and Sigma Pi Sigma, Kappa Mu Epsilon. He was a visiting scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1979-80.
Crouch said he became a scientist because “it is sort of like being an explorer.” He said you get to see things that others haven't seen before, explore areas that a new and unknown, seeks answers to questions that could have significant impact on others and perhaps even on the quality of life for everyone.
“I am still seeking ways to make a difference in the world and I hope that I can do something that will repay taxpayers for all the opportunities they have made possible,” he said.
When he signs photos for people, Crouch says he often uses the mantra: “Work hard, play often and always follow your dreams.”