Astronaut Scholarship Foundation

Created By The Mercury 7 Astronauts

2014 U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction Gala Scholar Keynote

During the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction Gala festivities on May 2, 2014, Jarret Lafleur, a 2005-2007 Astronaut Scholar, gave a keynote speech sharing his thoughts and story with the 400 guests in attendance. The following is Jarret’s address, in full:

Astronaut Scholar Jarret Lafleur thanks ASF patrons for their support.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Astronauts, Distinguished Guests, and Space Exploration Enthusiasts:

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to join us for dinner beneath this ridiculously large rocket.

My name is Jarret Lafleur, and I am proud to say I am an alumnus of the Astronaut Scholarship program that you all have supported just by being here today.  I know many of you come back year after year, and on behalf of the astronaut scholars, please accept my deepest thanks.  I received the Astronaut Scholarship when I was an undergraduate aerospace engineering student at Georgia Tech from 2005-2007.  I continued my education into graduate school and in 2012 earned my Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering.  Today I am a research and development engineer working within a strategic science and engineering think tank at the Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories, one of our nation’s premier national security laboratories.  Every day, we tackle issues ranging from renewable energy and climate change to homeland security, defense technology, and ensuring the safety, security, reliability, and overall effectiveness of America’s nuclear deterrent.

What I’d like to tell you tonight is how the Astronaut Scholarship is remarkably similar to a cylindrical triethylborane and triethylaluminum hypergol cartridge.  Please bear with me.

As many of you know, the Saturn V above you was much more storage tank than it was rocket engine.  Of the 6.5 million pounds that this candle weighed at launch, 6 million pounds were propellant.  So just before liftoff, there was this inconceivably massive amount of raw material, carefully selected and in just the right proportions to maximize the chemical potential of what was sitting on the launch pad.  But, like most rockets, it was missing something – something that would be provided only at exactly the right time when the Earth and the Moon were precisely aligned:  A spark.

Now imagine that today you are a college student, studying science or engineering at one of the nation’s top research universities.  You are surrounded by insanely smart people, and the expectations that your family, friends, and professors have for you are exceeded only by your expectations for yourself.  I can tell you from experience that being a top student is not some blissful utopian state that makes you feel like a top student.  Between finishing your 70-page fluid mechanics lab report, applying the Biot-Savart Law to this week’s electromagnetics homework, cramming Laplace transforms into your memory for tomorrow’s test on the transient response of second-order mass-spring-damper systems, formulating your next undergraduate research proposal, and applying for competitive internships at NASA, ATK, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and SpaceX, the last thing you are thinking is “What a breeze!”  Every day is tremendously demanding, and you may be so busy trying to stay afloat that rare is the opportunity to step back and see the big picture of how you’re doing and where everything is leading.

But then imagine that one day, you receive a phone call.  America’s astronauts, your heroes and the nation’s heroes, have personally looked at your academic accomplishments, your research, your future plans, and they believe you have the right stuff to ensure that the United States continues to lead the world in science and technology.  Congratulations, because you have just earned the largest undergraduate science and technology scholarship based solely on merit in the country.  Wow.

For me, the Astronaut Scholarship was a spark.  In addition to its generous financial support, it gave me the confidence to take ambitious steps with my research and career.  It promoted the value of new and innovative research, and it helped to solidify my desire and belief that I should and could see my education through to my doctoral degree.  Immediately after I received the scholarship in 2005, I upped my research game and nearly quadrupled my conference paper and journal article output during 2006.  That research performance, coupled with strong performance in my formal curriculum, allowed me to earn the rare honor of receiving two of the top graduate fellowships offered by the U.S. government, summing to a value of more than $200,000.  Then in graduate school, I really gained the confidence to step outside of the intellectual box.  During summers at NASA Johnson Space Center, for example, I experimented with applying the systems analysis and design concepts I learned in school to the challenging problem of how to land (rather than crash) when sending spacecraft screaming at 10,000 mph to enter the Martian atmosphere.  My doctoral research applied those concepts to space exploration programmatics, and today I have branched out beyond my aerospace roots.  I now apply many of the tools and techniques I learned from aerospace system design to ensure that the defense and security policies that our nation adopts are based on rigorous analysis and scientific fact.

And here I stand today in this room, in the company of two dozen of the highest and fastest flyers on (or off) the planet, a couple dozen of the most brilliant young scientists and engineers in the nation, and the few hundred of you who have kept the dreams of the Mercury Seven alive for the past 30 years and made journeys like mine possible.

The Astronaut Scholarship is unlike any other science or engineering scholarship.  Every year, all scholars and scholar alumni are invited to come back here to Cape Canaveral, not only to talk to the astronauts who selected us as scholars, but to network and learn from each other, allowing a cross-pollination among disciplines that so frequently results in new scientific ideas.  Because of this relationship, many scholars choose to give back every year, often monetarily but also by volunteering their ideas, skills, and time throughout the year.  However, giving back is not restricted to scholars, and I’d like to encourage each of you to give to the foundation in your own way, whether that’s by volunteering at one of the foundation’s events, spreading the word about the scholarship to your friends, family, and colleagues, or simply by donating to the foundation.  Please find a moment to talk with the ASF staff, the scholars, and the astronauts here tonight to see how you can contribute.

I give back because I believe ASF provides a spark that helps outstanding science and engineering students use their potential to launch to new heights, seeing the world from a new perspective well above the clouds of everyday research and enabling them the freedom to tackle some of the greatest and grandest challenges facing the nation and the world.

And in case you were wondering what provided the spark to start the engines of the Saturn V, it was a cylindrical triethylborane and triethylaluminum hypergol cartridge.

Thank you, and have an amazing evening.