Astronaut Scholarship Foundation

Created By The Mercury 7 Astronauts

2013 U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction Gala Scholar Keynote

During the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction Gala festivities on April 19, 2013, Daniel Araya, a 2007-2008 Astronaut Scholar, took the stage to share his thoughts and his story with the more than 450 guests in attendance. The following is Daniel’s address, in full:

Astronaut Scholar Daniel Araya speaks during 2013 AHOF Gala

Astronaut Scholar Daniel Araya addresses guests at the 2013 U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction Gala

I feel very privileged to be here tonight. I have such tremendous respect for the collective achievements of the people in this room. So I’m very grateful for this opportunity to share with you my story and hopefully convince you that your money was well spent.

I received the Astronaut Scholarship five years ago while I was a junior studying aerospace engineering at Texas A&M University. When I found out that Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham was coming to A&M to personally deliver my over-sized check, I can vividly remember feeling first overly excited and then quite nervous thinking to myself, “Oh my gosh, what am I going to say to this walking, talking legend of the American space program?” So, to calm the nerves a bit, I did some homework and read his book, The All-American Boys, thinking that it would at least give me something to talk about, and that if I somehow didn’t like it I just wouldn’t mention it and I’d think of something else to say. Thankfully, it turned out that I really liked the book and I told him that when I met him, and also the bit about how I’d considered not telling him I’d read it. He thought that was funny, and I was happy to find that he was the same candid, calm and cool Walt Cunningham in person as I had come to know from his book. That experience was really special for me.

This scholarship is really special. I’ve been very lucky to go on to win other academic awards in my career, including two prestigious graduate fellowships funded by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. However, the ASF award stands out above the rest to me because it made a significant impact on my education right when it was most important. I have to confess that I made the mistake in high school of not applying for scholarships when I applied to college. Only later did I learn that almost all undergraduate scholarships are reserved for incoming freshmen, and the few that aren’t are highly specialized with minimal financial support. Even as a half-Ethiopian, half-Hungarian, first-generation American with a 4.0 GPA I struggled to find support through school. But then I had the good fortune of winning the Astronaut Scholarship, which to my knowledge is the largest merit-based scholarship for non-incoming freshman undergraduates in the country. And I know of a lot, because I probably applied to all of them. So this award was huge for me. It propelled me forward. Not only financially, but personally and professionally as well.

Five years doesn’t seem that long, but it certainly feels like a lot has happened in that time. To give you the highlights, I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering from Texas A&M University in 2008 and 2011. In between degrees, I spent half a year as a volunteer teacher of English and physics to schoolchildren in Tanzania. In 2009, I married the most beautiful girl at the NASA Johnson Space Center, and just last September we welcomed our first daughter, Leila, into the world. I wish I could show you pictures of her, but then I’d definitely go over on time because we made a pretty cute baby and I literally have thousands of pictures.

Astronaut Scholar Daniel Araya visits the Caltech Field Laboratory for Optimized Wind Energy (FLOWE).

Today, I am in the second year of a Ph.D. program in aeronautics at the California Institute of Technology, where I am working in wind energy research. We are developing an exciting new wind farm design that was actually inspired by fish schooling and we’ve proven, through field experiments, that this design produces more than ten times more power per unit land area than modern wind farms. This is significant because in 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy set a goal of generating 20% of the U.S. energy using wind resources alone by the year 2030. As of the end of 2012, the total electricity produced from wind power in the U.S. was about 3.5%, which leaves a lot of room for improvement, and I’m excited to be at the forefront of helping to reach this goal for our country.

To conclude, on behalf of all of the Astronaut Scholars, I’d like to thank the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation for its support and example of excellence. We, the scholars, are but a handful of the exceptional talent that America has to offer in science and engineering. But the Astronaut Scholarship gives us this unique connection to an awe-inspiring group of American heroes that continues to be a gift long after the monetary support has fulfilled its purpose. So thank you. Thank you all, very much.