'A lesson in perseverance': Nasa astronaut took six attempts over 10 years to fulfil his dream

Nasa astronaut commander Jeffrey Williams at Nanyang Polytechnic's Aerospace Hub on Tuesday (Aug 1). He is making public appearances across Singapore this week thanks to local start-up Bhattacharya Space Enterprises.
Nasa astronaut commander Jeffrey Williams at Nanyang Polytechnic's Aerospace Hub on Tuesday (Aug 1). He is making public appearances across Singapore this week thanks to local start-up Bhattacharya Space Enterprises.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - What does it take to be an astronaut? Passion and perseverance, as well as a dash of luck, according to Nasa astronaut commander Jeffrey Williams.

The 59-year-old astronaut, who is making public appearances in Singapore this week thanks to local start-up Bhattacharya Space Enterprises, encouraged students on Tuesday (Aug 1) to develop their interest in the space industry.

"Get engaged in whatever areas you are interested in," said the spacefarer who has spent a record-breaking 534 days in orbit.

"Get into courses that are consistent with your interests, and be ready when doors of opportunity open up for you," he told about 150 polytechnic and ITE staff and students at Nanyang Polytechnic during a sharing of his experience working on the International Space Station.

Sheer determination propelled him to become an astronaut, he added.

For the American who grew up on a small dairy farm in Wisconsin, he used to think becoming an astronaut was an unrealistic ambition.

"I never thought of it as a possibility," said the father of two sons.

  • Event details

  • Tuesday, Aug 1

    Kopi Chat at Block71, 6pm-8pm
    Blk 71, Ayer Rajah Crescent, #02-01

  • Wednesday, Aug 2

    9.15am-11.15am
    Meet & Greet/Talk, Nanyang Technological University

    2pm-3.30pm
    The SUTD Masters of Technology and Design lecture featuring Nasa astronaut Jeff Williams, SUTD Auditorium (Building 2, Level 1)
    8 Somapah Road 

  • Saturday, Aug 5

    10am-12pm
    Nasa Commander Williams Talk, Science Centre Singapore
    Maxwell Auditorium

He had first wanted to be a civil engineer and it was only after joining the US Military Academy that he was exposed to the aviation industry and subsequently set his sights on aerospace engineering.

But the road to becoming an astronaut with the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) was far from easy.

It took him six attempts over 10 years before he was accepted into Nasa's astronaut programme in 1996.

"I interviewed every selection, which made it very hard - an interview's a big deal and when you get passed over and don't get selected, you have to endure that," said Colonel (Ret) Williams.

"It was really a lesson in perseverance."

He took his first flight into space in 2000. Today, he has completed four missions aboard the International Space Station and spent a record-breaking 534 days in space, which was surpassed by his colleague Peggy Whitson on April 24.

During his sharing, he also encouraged students to pursue opportunities in the burgeoning commercial space industry.

Perhaps one day, he joked, they can help develop technologies to fulfil his wish as an astronaut: "Beaming home for the weekend."