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To Mizzou and Beyond

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to boost the value of science education at a university. As Tigers are discovering, though, it can help to have one or two around.

In the wake of the NASA space shuttle program’s final flight, Mizzou has added two astronauts to the university’s science faculty. This semester Mizzou alumna Linda Godwin, MS ’76, PhD, ’80, is teaching an introductory astronomy course. Next semester her husband, fellow retired NASA astronaut Steven Nagel, will teach an aerospace propulsion course, supplementing his duties as a retention specialist in MU’s College of Engineering.

Each has flown on a space shuttle mission four times (once together, pre-couplehood). Both boast NASA careers that span the 30-year shuttle program. Neither makes a big deal out of being among only 523 humans to have traveled to space.

“Just because you’re an astronaut doesn’t make you smarter than other people,” Nagel claims.  He shrugs off local-media attention and reports of his autograph sales on eBay. Godwin balks at being listed with Jon Hamm and Sheryl Crow among Mizzou’s celebrity alumni. 

“Linda is obviously really keen but in this very understated way,” professor and Director of Astronomy Angela Speck says about her colleague. “She’s just so very, very calm. She’s also extremely approachable, and that’s important in the classroom.”

Students enrolled in the astronauts’ classes needn’t panic about being in over their heads. Instruction may more closely resemble the couple’s work in outreach (bringing science to the masses) than their work as NASA trainers (prepping astronauts for space). Above all, these professors want their students, whatever their career choices, to understand the scientific process and to become informed citizens.