SPRINGFIELD, Mo. A native of the Ozarks will be inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on April 6th at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Dr.Janet Kavandi, who has several ties to our area, will be just the 99th person to receive this esteemed honor that recognizes those who have demonstrated outstanding accomplishments in furthering NASA's mission of exploration and discovery.
"I'm in shock," Kavandi said of the honor. "It's a huge honor and I'm really surprised by that. It's a career I had thought about since I was a child. I had a father and mother who were very supportive. Especially my father. He would give me things like medical kits when I was little instead of a Barbie doll. So I think it was a subliminal message to me that I could be anything you wanted to be."
And what Kavandi came to be was an astronaut.
Born in Springfield she spent the first eight years of her life on a farm in Cassville looking up at the night sky and talking with her dad about all the satellites she could see. Then came a move to Carthage before getting her college degree at Joplin's Missouri Southern and her masters at Rolla's Missouri S&T, which has produced a number of astronauts including Tom Akers and Sandra Magnus.
Kavandi was chosen in 1994 a member of the 15th class of U.S. astronauts and has been on three space shuttle flights, logging more than 33 days in space and 13 million miles around the earth.
She vividly recalls that very first lift-off.
"I'm the kind of person that really like the front-seat of the roller coaster too so I really liked that adrenaline rush," Kavandi said. "It was really an unbelieveable moment in your life that you're actually going into space and all those dreams are coming true."
And she remembers the first time she saw earth from space.
"Wow! It's just like a big IMAX movie, only I'm floating!" she said with a laugh. "You can see so much of the earth and appreciate so much more from that perspective. And that's what you wish you could share with people more."
As amazing as her experiences have been, Kavandi knows the dangers as well. She came into the program after the 1986 Challenger explosion that killed seven crew members including two women. And before the Columbia disaster that killed seven more in 2003.
"Three of those (Columbia) crew members were in my class so I knew them very well," she said. "My best friend was among them so yes, it becomes very personal. It is truly a dangerous profession but something that is worth the risk."
Kavandi has experienced many rewarding moments in her career including taking President Obama and his family on a tour of the shuttle. And she is now the Director of NASA's John Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, in charge of developing science and technology for our future space endeavors.
"What I think we're going to be doing in the very near future is putting a platform in lunear orbit around the moon," she predicts. "So that we can go and put a lander and put it on the platform and send it down to the surface of the moon, collect samples, maybe build a habitat down there that allows us to live off the earth for the first time on another planetary body."
Those may sound like far-away dreams.
But a little girl from southwest Missouri once had a dream that didn't seem attainable as well.
But she learned a valuable lesson.
"Don't let anyone or anything hold you back if that's what you want to do in life."