Andreas MogensenSitting in the back of the taxi from the airport, I caught my first glimpse of UT from between the concrete pillars of the I-35 overpass. The taxi dropped me at one of the motels along the frontage road. I was tired from the long flight from Denmark, but the nervous anticipation of seeing what I had only read about, meant that sleep would have to wait. Instead I left my room and walked towards campus.

Four years earlier, I had graduated from Imperial College in London with a degree in aeronautical engineering. A lack of activity in the space industry in Europe meant that my dream of working in space exploration seemed further away than ever. I was unsure of what to do next; all I knew was that I didn’t want to spend another minute sitting in the library studying. Hoping for excitement and adventure, I joined the oil industry and before realizing what I had done, found myself on an offshore oil rig off the coast of Congo and Angola.

I hauled tools, laid cables, and rigged up equipment under the boiling African sun. Cranes lifted drilling pipe to the drill floor, the heavy pipe swinging dangerously from the crane as the semi-submersible rig swayed in the waves. It was a different world. But the old world and my dream kept coming back; for every problem we encountered, the chief engineer would shout, “This isn’t rocket science!”

A year and a half later, I left Africa and found a job as a control systems engineer in Denmark. Although closer to aerospace, it still wasn’t rocket science and I began to realize that the best way to get into the field of space exploration, was to get a Ph.D. I dusted off my old textbooks and began searching the internet for suitable universities.

Now I was walking onto campus for the first time. The course descriptions and the research topics that I had read about on the internet were exactly what I was looking for. Although it all sounded so right, I had never visited Austin before; I had never met any of the professors; I didn’t even have funding. What was I doing here?

What followed were, without a doubt, the best four years of my life: From trying to understand optimal control theory to tailgating before a UT home football game; from pulling all-nighters in search of orbital choreographies to recovering from the stress by going to 6th Street; from deriving the equations of motion for a gravity-gradient stabilized satellite during my oral qualifying exams to playing rugby and winning the Thunderbird Rugby Invitational; from listening to aerospace leaders like Mike Griffin and Franklin Chang-Diaz speak at UT to tubing on the Guadalupe River. All too soon, I had taken all the classes that I could and all there was left to do was to finish writing my dissertation. I dragged my feet, hoping to stay longer, but eventually I had to leave, not just UT but also the U.S.

I returned to Europe and starting to work as a GNC engineer. Six months later, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that they were recruiting a new group of astronauts, the first such recruitment campaign in nearly 17 years. I applied along with more than 8,000 other candidates from all across Europe. After a year-long process of psychological tests, medical tests, and interviews, I was selected in May 2009 as one of the six new members of the ESA astronaut corps.

On September 1, I started the basic astronaut training program at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany. I am sure that the next many years will be full of excitement and adventure, but I hope they will also be as stimulating, challenging, and above all, as much fun as the four years that I spent at UT.

To help support graduate students in aerospace engineering, contact Bliss Angerman at bliss.angerman@austin.utexas.edu