Astronaut shares UI memories

 

 

By Jonathan Jacobson

Col. Lee Archambault has no cell phone.

As a NASA astronaut and College of Engineering graduate from the University, he is relatively familiar with modern technology. But he’s got more important things on his mind.

The Oak Park native, who was honored by the alumni association as a comeback guest this Homecoming weekend, is used to a hurried schedule. He is also a colonel in the U.S. Air Force.

At first glance, Archambault may appear a bit intimidating. Athletic and confident with bulky arms that rest on his lap when he sits down, his thick eyebrows move quickly and expressively when he speaks. His youthful enthusiasm still comes through when he talks about the space program.

“We’re going to finish the space station, go to the moon and then use that as a stepping stone to go to Mars,” he said assuredly.

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Before Archambault was selected for NASA, he spent six years at the University and graduated in 1984 with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering.

It was that degree, he said, that propelled him to success in both test pilot school and the astronaut program.

“When I applied to NASA, the single most important non-flying credential was having a master’s degree from the College of Engineering here at Illinois,” he said. “It’s just a very well-respected engineering college.”

Archambault said his best memories of his time on campus also include the playing for the Illini Hockey club, to whom he gave his old jersey at a ceremony Friday night, which he took with him on his first space mission this June.

“I vividly remember Iowa State – which was the cream of the crop back then – they came here to play and these guys looked like pros,” he said. “And we ended up beating them both games at home.”

One of the 2007 team’s captains, Jordan Pringle, said that Archambault was very “down to earth, such a humble guy. I’m really honored to say that he was part of the team.”

Archambault is the fifth astronaut to come from the College of Engineering.

“Obviously, NASA and the space program has been an area we have populated with leadership,” said Chancellor Richard Herman, who was seated with Archambault at an alumni event on Saturday afternoon.

“I had a chance to meet Lee,” Herman said. “Wonderful guy.”

After graduation, Archambault joined the Air Force and spent time in Iraq during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, later participating in peacekeeping efforts there.

Archambault said it is difficult to keep up with his old friends since his life in the military has kept him busy for the last twenty years.

“You could probably count on one hand how many guys I keep in touch with,” he said.

But he has made new connections and formed a family in Houston.

In some ways, being an astronaut means being a publicist, he said.

This recent tour has taken him to his alma maters, Proviso West High School in Hillside, Ill., and the University.

Archambault said he is constantly traveling around and talking to students, getting them as excited about the space program as he is.