NASA Astronaut/Doctor lands at FAMU

Anticipation is increasing among Florida A&M faculty and students as they await the arrival of a 21st Century African-American Astronaut.

Robert L. Satcher, Jr., NASA and orthopedic oncologist will serve as this year’s keynote speaker for university’s Honors Convocation.

The convocation, a component of Honors Week and sponsored by the FAMU Honors Program, hosts a week-long list of events that include: performances, guest speakers, workshops and activities to promote academic achievement and leadership among students.

“FAMU grants students an opportunity to hear positive messages and take something from it to continue the positive cycle,” said Dwight Williams II, 21, a senior mathematics student from St. Paul, Minn.

Convocation is scheduled for March 31, at 10:00 a.m. in Lee Hall Auditorium. Faculty and students both expect that Satcher’s speech will not only highlight his achievements, but will serve as a motivator for all in letting them know that they can do the same.

Janelle Jennings-Alexander, academic service coordinator for the Honors Program said convocation is intended to inspire students.

“Having this convocation shows that the university really cares about academic success, and it demonstrates that the university wants students to do well academically so they can achieve great success,” Jennings-Alexander said.

Honors Program Counselor and Advisor Ravares Conner said being a doctor or an astronaut alone is a great accomplishment, but the fact that he is both will impress upon people the ability to succeed in multiple fields.

Satcher, who is currently a full-time astronaut and part-time medical doctor, was one of 11 candidates selected by NASA in May of 2004 to form the 2004 Astronaut Class, out of 4,000 applicants.

Satcher was contacted several times for an interview but his schedule did not permit, however, his alumni profile from MIT stated that he loves the human side of practicing medicine, but also has had a long-standing interest in space.

“I watched the Apollo launches as a kid and my interest grew in college with the space shuttle program,” Satcher said.

Satcher said he was inspired by Ron McNair, an MIT alumnus and African-American astronaut later killed in the Challenger explosion in 1986.

Satcher said he began preparation in June, consisting of: shuttle and international space systems, water and wilderness survival, T-38 flight training and physiological training.

According to a press release provided by FAMU’s Office of Communication, in November 2009, Satcher completed his first flight on STS-129. During that mission he completed two space walks. The mission was completed in 10 days, 19 hours, 16 minutes and 13 seconds traveling 4.5 million miles and 171 orbits.

In addition to his space explorations, he has conducted extensive research on bone substitutes for patients suffering bone loss as a result of trauma, infection and surgery. The loss of bone mass, which remains a serious threat among astronauts who travel for long period of time, is the motivating force that keeps Satcher at the forefront of advanced orthopedic oncology research.

Satcher received a bachelor of science in chemical engineering at MIT and a completed internship/residency in orthopedic surgery at the University of California; a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate of medicine degree from Harvard.

The 38-year-old Virginia native, husband and father of two has received numerous awards and grants toward research in orthopedic oncology, is affiliated with numerous organizations toward the advancement of medical research and academic success and has traveled to a host of under-developed countries such as: Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nigeria to provide medical outreach.

“It’s good when we have successful people who have arrived. It does two things: allows others to see the things they too can accomplish and also see the path that professionals have taken to arrive at a certain level of success,” Jennings-Alexander said.