Legacy of alumna astronaut continues past death - Purdue Exponent: Features

Legacy of alumna astronaut continues past death

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Posted: Thursday, February 9, 2012 10:00 am

Faculty remember Purdue’s first female astronaut as an inspiration to students.

Janice Voss, an alumna from 1975, died of breast cancer in Scottsdale, Ariz., Monday, Feb. 6.

The 55-year old astronaut graduated from Purdue with a bachelor’s degree in engineering science. Voss qualified, 16 years later, to be a mission specialist for NASA.

Angela Phillips Diaz, managing director of the Purdue Global Policy Research Institute and Voss’ long-time friend, said Voss made great contributions to her field. She was also passionate about inspiring students to pursue engineering and spaceflight.

“I saw her interact with students,” Diaz said. “She would talk about what it was like to fly, giving them first-hand experience.”

And she had plenty of experience to pass on. Voss had logged 49 days in space during her time as a mission specialist.

Diaz said the last time she saw her friend was in 2009, when Voss came to donate her personal papers to the Purdue Libraries’ archives. Documenting her flight career, these papers serve as another way for Voss to inspire students interested in spaceflight.

“She had very strong connections and love for Purdue,” Diaz said.

Voss’ interest in spaceflight, however, developed well before she became a Boilermaker.

John Norberg, a Purdue historian, interviewed Voss for his book, “Wings of Their Dreams: Purdue in Flight.” He said one of his favorite memories was a conversation they had about when she became interested in astronautics.

“After reading ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ as a sixth-grader, she started getting interested in these things,” Norberg said, “That eventually led her to Purdue.”

He said Voss actually took that book with her and read it before one of her flights.

“I was touched by her willingness to come back to Purdue,” Norberg said. “She was very busy, but still had a willingness to share her time with students.”

The commitment Voss had to students and her NASA missions combined as an inspiring source of encouragement for more women to study in engineering he said, which was a strong commitment of hers.

Another alumnus astronaut, Jerry Ross, whose career spanned more than three decades, was another good friend of Voss’.

Ross said he will miss her friendship and her smile.

“Janice was a good friend and an extremely talented person,” he said. “She always had a pleasant smile and loved tackling challenging problems.”

Her work toward both professional and personal goals, Diaz said, shaped Voss into a role model and a leader.

According to Diaz, Voss would tell students “to follow their dreams and passions, and strive for excellence.”

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