Space dreams

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Ken Fiscus might have a big decision on his hands.

He would like to continue his job teaching 9th grade astronomy and Earth science at Albert Lea high school but NASA will let him travel into outer-space.

Fiscus, 36, found out on Monday that is one of 120 finalists for NASA’s three to six educator astronaut positions that would entail space flight, as well as educating people across the country about the space program.

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&uot;It’s not a done deal yet but I am much closer than I thought I’d ever get,&uot; he said. &uot;If they hire 6 that’s a one in twenty shot and those are pretty good odds.&uot;

This October he’ll fly to Houston for a week to take over 20 tests.

Fiscus, the 2003 teacher of the year for the Albert Lea district, said it’s something that he’s always wanted to do, but his interests have steered him away from pursing it. Fiscus who’s known for his engaging astronomy demonstrations, said he’s always had the most interest in interactive work like dealing with students, and firing model rockets. Astronauts generally have backgrounds that involve more math, physics and independent research. That would require more work behind a computer screen than he is interested in.

This gives him a chance he never had. &uot;Before it was just an empty wish,&uot; he said.

Pursuing the wish required filling out what became a twenty page application, which had an more than 60 page instruction manual. His application included a five page resume, college transcripts, four letters of reference and an extensive medical history including every hospitalization he’s ever had, and the name of the doctor. &uot;They even wanted to know the doctor’s favorite ice cream,&uot; Fiscus joked.

Fiscus said it’d be great opportunity to teach kids about space, since the position would involve some instruction.

But he said the main draw is going into space. He said that as a mission specialist he would possibly go outside a space shuttle. Pointing to a picture of someone floating in a spacesuit with the stars as a background, Fiscus said, with wide eyes and a smile, &uot;I could be that guy. Wouldn’t that be awesome?&uot;

It’s a little difficult to gauge his excitement by talking to him, he seems excited naturally, talking fast and intensely. He said the more he talks about it the more fired up he gets.

Fiscus said he’s not nervous about most of the tests, which will include a day of psychiatric exams, as well as more job-specific interviews. &uot;I’m not worried about the interviews. I’ve got a lot to offer,&uot; he said, &uot;I always do well in interviews.&uot; He is concerned about the fitness tests. &uot;I may not look it but I’m out-of-shape,&uot; Fiscus said. He said he hasn’t got much regular exercise since high school, and plans on possibly training with the high school’s cross country team or one of the colleagues who’ve offered to help.

Fiscus said he knows because the recent news of Shuttle Columbia explosion there could be changes at NASA, and the program’s future might be uncertain. He also knows that people die on space flights. &uot;The benefits outweigh the risks.&uot; He said his wife is behind him on the decision.

Neil Chalmers, a co-worker of Fiscus’ at the high school, said he was excited but not surprised with Fiscus’ good fortune. &uot;Good things happen to good people,&uot; he said. He saw the program as something full of opportunity. &uot;If he gets to go up in the big bird it would be one great learning opportunity not just for him but for all of us,&uot; he said.

Not everything appeals to Fiscus about the job, he prefers the mild summers of Minnesota to the humidity of Houston. He also said he’d miss the school and his place in the community as the resident astronomy expert. &uot;I really don’t want it to sound like I want to leave Albert Lea because I really don’t,&uot; he said. However, he added, the opportunity is too good to pass up.

Next week classes start. Asked what he’ll say to his students he said. &uot;I’ll tell them there’s a chance they’ll be my last 9th grade Earth science class.&uot;

(Contact Tim Sturrock at or 379-3438.)