NASA selects astronauts from a diverse pool of applicants with a wide variety of backgrounds from scientists to pilots. From the thousands of applications received, only a few are chosen to be a member of the elite NASA Astronaut Corps. Each day at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, visitors get the rare opportunity to meet veteran NASA astronauts.
You may meet the Astronaut of the Day at any of the following opportunities. See the Daily Schedule for times when you arrive.
Sam Durrance was not a NASA trained astronaut, but rather a payload specialist contracted by a company to join other astronauts in space. For two flights and 615 hours in space, he assisted crews with operating sophisticated scientific equipment aimed at understanding our universe.
He received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in physics from California State University. He then attended the University of Colorado, completing a Ph.D. in astrogeophysics. He worked at Johns Hopkins University as the principal research scientist in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. While at Johns Hopkins, he began his work as co-investigator for the Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope. When it came time to deploy the telescope, NASA selected Dr. Durrance as a payload specialist on space shuttle mission STS-35/Astro 1. Both that mission and STS-67/Astro 2, which Durrance flew on, were dedicated missions to astronomy.
While not in space, Dr. Durrance has made great strides in ground-based astronomy. At Johns Hopkins University, he created a program to develop adaptive-optics instrumentation, which counteracts the atmosphere so we can have a clearer image of what’s beyond. He also discovered a cool brown dwarf planet with the help of his team who designed and constructed the Adaptive Optics Coronagraph.
Since 2006, Dr. Durrance has held the position of professor in the Department of Physics and Space Science at Florida Institute of Technology. He continues to be involved with interdisciplinary research and education programs in astrobiology. Dr. Durrance is a member of multiple organizations, most notably the American Geophysical Union, the Association of Space Explorers, and the Planetary Society.