U.S. astronaut to students: perseverance and hard work make dreams come true
Physicist and astronaut Donald Thomas speaks to hundreds of students gathered at LAU about his aspirations, challenges and unique experiences.
Students from various schools and universities enjoyed an engaging and educational discussion with astronaut Donald Thomas at LAU on April 26 thanks to a collaboration between the LAU Astronomy Club, the Department of Natural Sciences, the Cosmic Dome and the Young Leaders Development Program (YLDP Lebanon).
Thomas, who orbited Earth a total of 692 times during his four missions and over 1000 hours in space, related to an audience of students, faculty and guests how he had made his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut a reality. “I was six when I decided I wanted to go into space … and 35 when they finally accepted me into the NASA astronaut program,” said Thomas, whose application to NASA was only successful after four attempts. “I persevered, studied the data, worked hard, and to all of you with a dream I say, never give up,” he advised the full-house audience in LAU’s Irwin Hall auditorium.
The astronaut turned motivational speaker started his career as a physicist. As well as inspiring the audience with his frank and passionate speech about his fears and achievements, Thomas educated them by talking through the various scientific experiments he was engaged in.
“It was really cool to meet the astronaut,” enthused Ahmad Zein, a grade 10 student at Rawda High School. His classmate Leen Asfari agreed. “I want to be a scientist and study chemistry, so I like opportunities like this to educate myself.”
Graduating this summer with a B.S. in Chemistry, Najat Fadlallah, president of the LAU Astronomy Club Beirut, was thrilled. “Thomas spoke so well and was so inspiring. The event exceeded my expectations, and it was great collaborating with Dr. Abbas to bring an astronaut to LAU,” said the senior, referring to astrophysicist and LAU faculty member Mohamad Abbas.
Founder of portable planetarium providers The Cosmic Dome, Abbas generously arranged for two domes to be included in the exhibition held in the university gymnasium, which followed the talk. Photographs of nebulae and galaxies were on display as well as remnants of comets. “This was really a one-of-a-kind experience,” said LAU student Marianne Azar as she stood near Thomas, who, clad in blue NASA overalls, was surrounded by students eager to take a photograph with him.
Malih Al Yaman, founder of YLDP Lebanon, took the opportunity to introduce the audience to the program’s initiatives and the astronaut’s two-week tour of Lebanon that they have organized. LAU was his first stop on the tour. “I’ve seen this country from space many times and I knew it was beautiful, but it’s so great to be here in person,” said Thomas of his first time visit.