To infinity and beyond…


From left to right: S&T alumni Sandy Magnus, Janet Kavandi and Tom Akers speak during a recent visit to campus. Photo by B.A. Rupert

Three NASA astronauts and S&T grads visited campus on Nov. 12, to discuss their careers and the future of space exploration. In the following videos, the trio share their spaceflight memories, why they became astronauts and their experiences here in Rolla.

Sandra “Sandy” Magnus, a native of Belleville, Ill., earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from S&T in 1986 and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the campus in 1990. She earned a Ph.D. from the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology in 1996. Magnus left the Earth in November 2008 for a 4 ½-month stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS). During her visit, Magnus blogged for the Missouri S&T-hosted site She returned in March 2009. This was her second space flight. During the mission, she helped install components necessary to upgrade the ISS from a three-person to a six-person crew. She also served as science officer, conducting experiments and helping take care of payloads. Magnus became a NASA mission specialist in 1998. Her first shuttle mission was in 2002 aboard the Atlantis, delivering and installing a new component to the space station’s truss structure. She operated the space station’s robotic arm during the three spacewalks required to outfit and activate the new component. Her last mission was also the last for the shuttle program. Magnus flew aboard Atlantis as one of four mission specialists on the shuttle fleet’s final flight to the ISS on July 8, 2011.

Janet Kavandi, earned a master’s degree in chemistry from Missouri S&T in 1982. A native of Carthage, Mo., she also holds a bachelor’s degree from Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. In 1990, Kavandi earned her Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from the University of Washington-Seattle. She has logged more than 33 days in space and traveled more than 13.1 million miles during her three successful missions as a NASA astronaut. Chosen as an astronaut candidate in 1994, her first space flight was as a mission specialist on the shuttle Discovery in 1998, the ninth and final shuttle-Mir docking mission, concluding the joint U.S./Russian Phase 1 program. That mission was the initial flight of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which detects dark matter and antimatter in space. Kavandi then flew aboard Endeavour in 2000 on a space radar mission to map more than 47 million miles of the Earth’s land surface for a high-resolution 3-D topographical map. Her most recent mission was in 2001 on the shuttle Atlantis to install a new airlock for the ISS. She controlled the shuttle’s robotic arm, which maneuvered two fellow astronauts as they installed the new passageway. Kavandi is director of Flight Crew Operations at the Johnson Space Center, where she manages the U.S. Astronaut Office and the Aircraft Operations Division at Ellington Field in Texas. Kavandi holds two patents for her pre-astronaut work on pressure-indicating paints.

Col. Thomas “Tom” Akers, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in applied mathematics from Missouri S&T in 1973 and 1975. He is a veteran of four space shuttle missions and was S&T’s first astronaut. He has spent more than 800 hours in orbit, including more than 29 hours of extra-vehicular activity (spacewalking). In each of his flights, he was a mission specialist. Aboard Discovery in 1990, he was instrumental in deploying the European Space Agency satellite Ulysses. During his second flight, this time on Endeavour, Akers and fellow astronauts repaired the non-functional Intelsat VI-F3 satellite. His third shuttle mission, also aboard Endeavour, resulted in a repaired and upgraded Hubble Space Telescope. On his last mission in 1996, Akers and the crew of Atlantis rendezvoused with the Russian Space Station Mir. After retiring from NASA and the Air Force, Akers served as a math instructor at Missouri S&T for more than a decade. He retired in 2010.

By members of S&T communications department


  1. Wade Jadwin says

    I enjoyed the video clips and really wish my schedule would have permitted me to attend this event. Is there a possibility the entire event will be accessible in the future?

  2. Linda Fulps says

    Sorry you missed the presentation, Wade. Unfortunately, the event was not videotaped.