Alumnus applies to NASA

John Thurmond (right) was inspired by astronaut and alumnus Jim Reilly (center), whom he met while working on the geoscience Homecoming parade float. Thurmond is following in Reilly’s footsteps by applying for NASA’s astronaut program following his long career in the oil industry. (John Thurmond | Courtesy)

Alumnus John Thurmond is applying to the NASA astronaut program for the first time. He was inspired by former NASA astronaut and alumnus Jim Reilly whose similar background and experience encouraged Thurmond to pursue his dream.

Last year was the first time Thurmond was able to apply to the program since moving back to the United States after a decade abroad in Norway doing exploration research for Statoil.

“It’s something that I never thought would happen and I still don’t think it will happen,” he said. “But when the announcement came out, I noted that I met all of the requirements and I thought, ‘Why not, what’s the harm?’”

When he was a graduate student at UTD, Thurmond recalls meeting Reilly when he participated in the geoscience club’s homecoming parade float.

Reilly’s similar interest in geoscience and involvement in the oil industry, like Thurmond, encouraged him to apply to the program.

“Normally I would’ve thought (I had) no chance, but since I met all of the requirements and I was similar to an astronaut that I had met, I thought ‘why not?’” Thurmond said.

At this point, he is waiting on a response from NASA. He applied in January and said it takes between six to nine months to hear back.

“I would be enormously pleased to make it past the first step and just get an interview,” he said. “I don’t rate my chances very high, but it’s one of those things that to have a rejection letter is a pretty cool thing to have.”

Even if Thurmond doesn’t get accepted this time, he said that he wouldn’t give up hope.

“One of the things that people will tell you about applying to the astronaut program is if you’re really serious about it, you should apply more than one time,” he said.

Thurmond also credits UTD with his success.

“UTD laid a better foundation for me than I imagined it would as an undergraduate,” he said. “I went on to grad school at MIT, and found that I was fully prepared to cope with that, giving me the confidence that anything was within my reach, if I were willing to work for it — even becoming an astronaut.”

Thurmond said he plans to keep building his resume with additional certifications, like a pilot’s license, so the next time the program opens up, he can show improvement.

“I work in exploration for an oil company now,” he said. “I explore in everything I do and the opportunity to explore on that scale would not be something I would pass up.”

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