NASA astronaut Voss to land in Madison April 27

An early interest in science fiction
put Purdue grad on the road to space travel

Don Ward

(April 2001) Madison, In – For some of today’s NASA astronauts, the dream began as a child, playing with toy space ships or visiting space museums. For others, it was popular TV shows and movies – “Star Trek,” “Lost in Space” and “2001 – A Space Odyssey.”

Janice Voss

Janice Voss

But for Janice Voss, it all started with science fiction books. Still an avid reader of both fiction and nonfiction, the Indiana native credits such books as the seed that over a lifetime grew into a passion for space exploration.
Following several years of hard work in school, Voss’ dream became a reality when in 1990 she was among a chosen few selected by NASA to become an astronaut. Since then, the Purdue University graduate has flown aboard five Space Shuttle missions, logging more than 49 days in space and traveling 18.8 million miles in 779 Earth orbits. On each mission, Voss takes along a book to read as one of her few personal items allowed on board.
This month, Voss will travel from her Houston home to Madison, Ind., to appear as the celebrity guest at the inaugural Regional Business Expo, set for April 27 at the Venture Out Business Center. Voss will address Expo exhibitors at a morning breakfast, then meet with school children and the public in the afternoon. The event is sponsored by the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Development Center in conjunction with the Jefferson County Collaborative Marketing Project.
“I always look forward to speaking to groups and usually tailor each appearance to the audience, whether it’s a speech or panel discussion or something else,” said Voss, 44, during a February telephone interview from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“For school groups, I talk about working hard and being a good team player, because that’s what you have to do as an astronaut. If it’s adults, much of what I talk about deals with the benefits of space exploration and to make the case that our tax dollars are being spent wisely.”
Part of her decision to come to Madison stems from the fact her parents live on a farm in nearby Dupont, Ind., in northern Jefferson County. Voss visits the family farm a few times each year, usually on holidays and special family occasions. But the rest of her time is spent in Houston, where one of her three sisters also lives.
When not preparing for an upcoming space flight, Voss spends most of her time in training and makes as many as 25 public appearances a year on behalf of NASA. She says she enjoys her speaking roles because it gives her an opportunity to discuss what she loves most – space. She also uses such opportunities to try and impress upon young people the need for education and to work hard in school, no matter what career they pursue.
The second of James and Louise Voss’ four daughters, Janice was born in South Bend, Ind., but spent little time there. The family soon moved to Rockford, Ill., and later, when Janice was in the seventh grade, on to Massachusetts, where she finished high school.
James Voss, a Purdue University engineer with a doctorate degree in nuclear physics, had his own successful career working for various corporations and is still an active consultant. While in South Bend, he helped develop the U.S. Navy’s guided missile program.
Louise Voss, a Purdue graduate, holds a master’s degree in home economics from the University of Connecticut and is a retired high school teacher. After retirement, Louise became active in local politics and served two terms on the Wilbraham, Mass., Board of Selectmen, essentially a town council. In fact, she became the first woman to be elected to that board. It was her family’s farm in Dupont that drew the Vosses there a decade ago, according to her brother, Elbert Hinds of Dupont.
“Jim was always good in math, and they used to play math games at the dinner table when the girls were young,” Hinds said. “Janice did so well in school that she skipped a grade. But her father didn’t try to influence any of his children and let them go their own way.”
Janice says it was more her own interest in science fiction that influenced her decision to pursue a career with NASA. She said her father supported her decision but did not push her toward math or science.
James Voss said that his career in the sciences no doubt had some influence on his daughters, but that Janice, more than the others, took an early interest in science and pursued it fully as a career.
“It was all her own nature,” he said. “She did things on her own at an early age. She’s always been aggressive about her future. She’s always had her goal in mind, and math came naturally to her.”
Voss’ oldest daughter, Vicky Fransham, 46, became a computer programmer and now resides in Houston; the third daughter, Linda Voss, 43, became a technical writer and lives in Alexandria, Va.; and the youngest, Karen Voss, 41, until recently played Mickey Mouse at Walt Disney World in Orlando and still works there and lives in Orlando.
After high school, Janice returned to Indiana and in 1975 earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering science at Purdue. She followed that with a master’s degree in electrical engineering and a doctorate in aeronautics/astronautics in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She called earning a PhD. “a real struggle for me.”
Voss’ big break came when she was selected by NASA to participate as a student co-op at the Johnson Space Center from 1973-75. She worked on computer simulations in the Engineering and Development Directorate. In 1977, she returned to Houston to work for a year as a crew trainer, teaching entry guidance and navigation. She completed her doctorate in 1987 and accepted a job with Orbital Sciences Corp.
Selected by NASA in January 1990, Voss became an astronaut in July 1991. She is qualified for flight assignment as a mission specialist. Her technical assignments have included working Spacelab/Spacehab and robotics issues.
Not surprisingly, Voss is an adamant supporter of space exploration and the multi-national Freedom Space Station now being constructed in orbit. She is not currently scheduled for a future flight and spends her days in meetings, simulator training sessions, working out and studying. NASA astronauts typically have about two years between flights. In describing her work day, Voss said, “Every day is different.”
Voss is single and says her busy schedule and long working days allow her little time for socializing or recreation, although she lists reading science fiction, dancing, volleyball and flying among her hobbies. “Especially in the three months prior to a launch, you have very little personal time,” she said.
Her closest friends, she says, are those with whom she schooled with at Purdue and now work with her at NASA.
Her parents have witnessed every space launch and landing their daughter has taken. Many family members also attend and take part in NASA family receptions.
“We’ve met many wonderful people, including many other astronauts, through Janice’s career at NASA,” said James Voss, 75. “We’ve seen the White Room, where the astronauts get ready to go, and we’ve been right up to the door of the Shuttle sitting on the launch pad.”
Hinds says the family has learned to cope with the dangers of their daughter’s space travel. “It’s something we understand, and every flight makes us nervous,” said Hinds, a retired U.S. Civil Service employee who has attended all but one of his niece’s Shuttle launches and witnessed one landing.
Louise Voss, 72, said her daughter’s career “has expanded our lives because of our experiences with NASA.” She added that there is some nervousness on launch day. “We’re most anxious to see it take off, but the best day is when she lands.”
The pay for an astronaut isn’t great at the beginning, Voss said, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. “Most people don’t care about the money, it’s the chance to go into space that drives them.”

• For information about the Regional Business Expo in Madison, Ind., on April 27, call (812) 265-3135.

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