Reaching for the Stars

NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra ’13 will soon blast off for the International Space Station.

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Talk about launching your career: In November, NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra ’13 will blast off from Earth in a Russian space rocket and hurtle 220 miles through the cosmos to the International Space Station, where he will live for six months.

As commander of the space station, Kopra’s mission is twofold. First, he will conduct experiments to test the effects of zero gravity on humans and explore fluid mechanics and combustion. Second, he will help repair and maintain the Space Station, which began construction in 1998 — the same year Kopra joined NASA.

It might be an unexpected career path for a Columbia Business School graduate, but the astronaut says he learned valuable skills at Columbia that come in handy in space.

“Probably the most viable skill that we have in our job on the Space Station is really getting along with others,” says Kopra, who will be accompanied by two crewmembers on the voyage and join three more astronauts at the space station. “My experience at the EMBA Global program, specifically Columbia, helped with that. I had some tremendously powerful and influential instructors who taught me [a lot] when it came to leadership.”

This will be Kopra’s second visit to the International Space Station (his first was in 2009). In addition to his many tasks, he will no doubt save some time to admire the sheer beauty of Earth, which he called “overwhelming” during an interview with the London School of Business. “You could easily stare out of the window for hours at a time.”

Kopra at work

Yet, Kopra’s upcoming voyage to space was almost a mission: impossible. He was injured in a bicycle accident in 2011 and thought he might not have the opportunity to fly again. It was during that time, in fact, that he earned his MBA degree — as well as a community of new friends.

“When I started the program I had very tangible goals with respect to trying to learn new things and identify new [work] opportunities. But I think the greatest part of the experience was the number of friends I made,” he says. “I have strong feelings for both Columbia and the people who come from it.”

A former crew

Kopra fully recovered from his injuries, and for months he has been traveling between the United States and Russia for the intensive physical training that space exploration requires — such as taking parabolic airplane flights and “spacewalking” at the bottom of a 6-million-gallon pool.

“I think the aspect of being an astronaut that made me excited as a six-year-old is probably the same thing that is exciting to me now,” Kopra says. “And that is: pushing oneself to learn new things and be able to experience things you really never anticipated.” 

Kopra plans to wear a Columbia Business School t-shirt and bring a School-branded pennant with him on his mission, as well as share photos of himself with his Columbia gear in space, so he can “share my enthusiasm for the program and the institution with others.”

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