For Jim Pawelczyk, space was more of a pit stop than a final frontier.
In 1998, Pawelczyk was a NASA payload specialist aboard the STS-90 Neurolab, where he and six other crew members conducted 26 experiments exploring the effects of space on the nervous system. And his current earthbound activities are no less ambitious.
Pawelczyk is an associate professor of physiology and kinesiology at Penn State and sits on the Board of School Directors in the State College Area School District, where the view isn’t nearly as impressive, but the work is just as important.
But about that view...
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Q: What was your childhood ambition?
A: I was going to be either an entomologist or an astronaut.
Q: What was the most challenging part of your training as an astronaut and why?
A: Management. You’re preparing for one of the most complex experiences of your life. The mechanics of your work and your life are completely different in a free-fall environment. It’s risky. And on the ground, life goes on. Space launches include receptions for extended family and friends. There’s tension and worry. You’re part of all of it, even when you’re far away. Managing these moments, for your country, the scientists and staff you represent, your crew and your family, is very humbling.
Q: What was your immediate reaction when you saw the earth from space for the first time?
A: It takes your breath away. The earth has a vast, very saturated color palette. It seems impossibly vivid, but it’s real.
Q: Of the many out there, what’s your favorite movie about space travel?
A: I haven’t seen the movie yet, but if it matches the book, it will be, “The Martian.” Character Mark Watney’s improvisation and survival skills were great.
Q: Who or what is your inspiration?
A: It’s hard for me to pick one person or thing. I’m inspired by community; when random individuals reach beyond themselves for a greater good. You see it everywhere — in the Park Forest Swim Team or our schools, for example. Ask any veteran what makes them tick and you’ll be richer for the experience. Serving our communities — however we define them — is what makes our nation great.
Q: What has been your proudest moment?
A: Fatherhood. Nothing else comes close.
Q: Where is your favorite travel destination (on Earth)?
A: There are so many. I enjoy the high desert. It’s otherworldly.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?
A: In the “heat of the moment,” a friend of mine suggested that I stop, step outside the experience, look around, and take it all in. There’s never a bad time to pause for reflection.
Q: One of your hobbies is philately. How many stamps do you have in your collection and is there one that stands out or has special significance to you?
A: I have no idea on the number of stamps. I specialize in U.S. first-issue revenue stamps, which were issued from 1862 to 1871. They were an important part of the Union’s funding for the Civil War. Stamps that are still affixed to documents are my favorites; you get a little history lesson with every stamp.
Q: What would your version of a perfect day look like?
A: Family ski ... fresh powder ... first on the slopes.