Former NASA astronaut and Coconut Grove native Winston Scott launched Ransom Everglades’ celebration of Black History Month with out-of-this-world talks to Ransom Everglades students on both campuses, telling stories about his days as an astronaut – specifically a space walker – on two space shuttle missions.
Scott’s tales enraptured upper schoolers at the Lewis Family Auditorium in the morning of February 1 and middle schoolers in the gymnasium in the afternoon. He explained what riding on a space shuttle felt like, traveling from 0 to 17,500 miles per hour in eight-and-a-half minutes, and shared memories from his three space walks and two missions – nine days on the Endeavor in 1996, and 16 days on the Columbia in 1997.
He described wrestling for more than three hours with a 3,000-lb. satellite that had malfunctioned; he and a fellow space walker were appointed to stand outside the shuttle, grab it and load it onto the shuttle for repairs.
“It is a life-changing event to travel in space,” said Scott, a faculty emeritus at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, “there is nothing like it … But I’m not here to recruit astronauts. I’m here to tell you if you pursue your dream and accomplish it, it will be life-changing for you.”
As a child, Scott said, he dreamed of space travel – he recalled selecting the book Project Mercury as a third grader on his first trip to the Coconut Grove Public Library on a class field trip. He never, however, imagined he could be an astronaut.
“I used to follow the space program … I was always fascinated by it,” he said to upper schoolers. “I didn’t think I could to it. It was so far-fetched, like watching Batman on TV.”
Scott shared details of his rise from segregated Miami – where his father was one of the county’s two Black mail carriers – through Coral Gables High School and Florida State University, where he studied music and engineering. He received his master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, then served for more than a decade as a U.S. Navy officer and aviator, flying anti-submarine warfare helicopters – including the plane Tom Cruise flew in the movie Top Gun. With that experience behind him, he applied and was accepted into NASA’s astronaut program.
“The military gave me opportunities I never would have gotten anywhere else,” he said. “It is the kind of organization that brings out the best in those who put the best into it.”
An excellent trumpet player who has occasionally played with the RE Combo, Scott was introduced by band directors Jon Hamm and Cathi Leibinger. At the conclusion of his presentations, Director of Inclusion and Community Engagement Wendell Graham ’79 offered words of thanks. Said Hamm about Scott: “His resume is extraordinary, and his accomplishments are unbelievably impressive.”
For those interested in becoming an astronaut, Scott recommended earning a full complement of degrees – bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate – and gaining flying experience. He noted that all shuttle rides carry and conduct research projects, and his rides, in particular, contributed to the building of the International Space Station.
“The things we learn from space exploration benefit people on earth,” he said.