Search Results for: ‘Marshburn’

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NASA Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82 on the Green, Green Grass of Alma Mater


NASA Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82 came home to alma mater’s patch of planet Earth this week, after more than five months in early 2013 on the International Space Station. It was a pleasure to shake his hand after having been in touch by phone, email and satellite uplink!

(front, l-r) Tom, Grace and Ann Marshburn lead the way followed by Davidson resident sister-in-law Nancy Marshburn (rear, l) and Wendy Roberts, executive assistant to the president.

With grace and aplomb, my buddy Tom, the astronaut, gave several presentations on campus, as well as visiting the kudzu goats out by the cross-country trails (see previous post) and otherwise gadding about campus with his daughter Grace and wife Ann, two lovely and delightfully good-humored ladies.

Tom and a gang of Wildcats on the way to Vail Commons for lunch!

At a Common Hour talk on Tuesday—unofficially subtitled “Bean Dip, Stewed Prunes, ZZ Top and YoYo Ma”—Marshburn spoke of things like translational velocities and parabolic arcs that match the curve of the Earth, by way of explaining the concept of orbital micro-gravity. Then, he recounted how his Soyuz rocket blasted off from Kazakhstan (“like lying on your back in a building that becomes a live animal”) and traveled to an altitude of some 250 miles up, sometimes at speeds of five miles per second. (Yes, per second.)

Next, with plenty of video clips to illustrate, Marshburn recounted some of the “science of opportunity” experiments he and his fellow astronauts and cosmonauts performed with “objects of opportunity” including smuggled vanillin (an ideal viscosity) and duct tape (self-explanatory).

The Physics of Lunch, Part Deux

“You start to notice things,” he said. “A lot of our experiments started with ‘Wow, that’s cool,’ and then ‘I wonder what would happen if….’”

• Spinning objects seeking a lower energy state behave differently on their spinning axes depending on whether they are liquid or solid, or both. Application: understanding how fuel tanks affect space flight physics.

Marshburn having a blast from the past in his old bedroom window in Julia Johnston House overlooking Main Street.

• Table salt in a zip-lock bag coalesces in a noticeable pattern at a particular rate. (The grains of sodium chloride are dehydrated from food saline, which is the safety norm on ISS, to prevent weightless grains of salt from flying about willy-nilly at mealtime.) Application: Understanding how the very matter of the primordial universe came together into stars and planets, solar systems and galaxies.

• An Alka-Seltzer tablet dissolves in a huge drop of water big as your fist, in mid-air. Application: Um, I forget exactly, but it is totally cool to look at. In general, weightless liquids in space share some behavioral characteristics with micro-liquids on Earth, particularly in terms of “capillary” flow. Applications range from inkjet printers to HIV diagnostic tools.

Me and my buddy Tom, the astronaut.

At the end of his presentation, when Marshburn’s PowerPoint relinquished the screen to his computer’s desktop, the juxtaposition of astronaut and regular guy came into focus: next to desktop folders marked “Cosmonauts” and “Award Debriefs” were others marked “Invest and Retire” and that old, familiar standby, “Files I Never Use.”

And in the “Launch Pad Tunes” folder? U2’s “It’s a Beautiful Day,” Joe Satriani’s “Summer Song” and Muse, maybe a little “Uprising”?….

Tuesday night, after dinner at the President’s House with classmates, roommates, professors and others, Marshburn gave a public lecture in Duke Family Performance Hall complete with Q&A for the kids of all ages and photo-opps for all at the reception afterward.

Richardson Professor of Physics Larry Cain and former advisee Astronaut Tom Marshburn share a pre-lecture moment against a video of Astronaut Mike Hopkins in a pre-launch press conference.

Wednesday afternoon, Marshburn made time in his schedule for a visit to College Communications—housed in the college’s Julia Johnston House on Main Street, where he lived upstairs as a sophomore when the building was student housing. He regaled staffers with stories of how he and his housemates cheered, in what is now the office kitchen area, for televised matches of the U.S. Hockey Team in the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.

He also regaled us with the story of the “party of the century,” held in the JJ House that year, a costume party with the theme of dressing up as your repressed desire. Already as a 20-year-old, though, he knew his own desire to be an astronaut, and showed up wrapped in tin foil and sporting a borrowed motorcycle helmet….

At a physics seminar hosted Wednesday afternoon by his erstwhile faculty adviser, Richardson Professor of Physics Larry Cain, Marshburn went in to deeper detail about all things physics, for instance radiation (astronauts in space are classified as “radiation workers” and can sometimes see solar protons flashing through their eyeballs). He talked about International Space Station experiments and observations that are adding mightily to the core of human knowledge about nutrition, mental health, osteoporosis, muscle wasting, fish and plants, microencapulation, antimattter, dark matter and “strangelets.”

As luck would have it, Marshburn’s fellow astronaut, Mike Hopkins, was blasting off from Kazakhstan during the seminar, so Marshburn toggled the NASA feed in at an opportune moment to watch the launch. (“I’m getting sweaty palms just watching.”)

Marshburn ended with a quote from Daniel Boorstin’s The Discoverers: “The most important words ever written on the maps of human knowledge are terra incognita — unknown territory.”

With awe in the spirit Tom shares with Davidson, with admiration for him as a fellow Earthling alumnus with “humane instincts and a creative and disciplined mind for a life of leadership and service,” and with thanks on behalf of Davidson to Tom, Ann and Grace for a wonderful visit, I’ll close with a quote from Tom himself, from one of the April satellite downlinks from ISS to the C. Shaw Smith 900 Room:

“I think space flight is actually the epitome of what is important about a liberal arts education. We see this absolute wonder that’s up here, we see it with the robotics of exploration on Mars and in our solar system and even leaving our solar system….

“But how that relates to humans is the most important part of it. We can have complete technical mastery over our world, but we can still do bad things with that. So it’s not just about enriching our culture, which is very important, but it’s actually essential for our survival, that we know what to do with the technical accomplishments we’ve made.”

For archival coverage on Marshburn, including links to Davidson and NASA video, explore here.



Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82


Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82 (eleventh from left), daughter Grace and wife Ann took a few minutes out of a busy morning on campus to visit the goats on the XC trails.


Marshburn will speak at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the Duke Family Performance Hall. (See “Events” at

Read more about Marshburn.

Read more about the goats.

Viral Space Oddity: Ground Control to Dr. Tom (Marshburn ’82)


Click to Play

Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield handed over control of the International Space Station yesterday to Expedition 36 command, as Canadian Hadfield, Russian Roman Romanenko and Davidson College Wildcat Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82 prepare to close the hatch this afternoon at 3:50 p.m. and return to Earth.

But first, Expedition 35/36 posted what’s being billed as the first music video from space, with Hadfield rocking revised lyrics in honor of their pending trip. Brilliant! Safe travels home, gentlemen, and, as the 1969 David Bowie single says, “May God’s love be with you….”

As this is posted, the video has recorded more than a million views on YouTube.

Click here for more archival Davidson links and live NASA links of Expedition 35’s return to Earth.

LIVE: Soyuz Returns, May 12-14 • VIDEO x 2: Wildcat Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82


Since Wildcat NASA Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82’s conversations from space to the 900 Room, we’ve spotted him flying over Lake Norman several times at dawn or dusk, sun glinting off the International Space Station 230 miles up at 175,000 mph.

Now hear this, just in: NASA will broadcast live coverage of his expedition’s return to Earth May 12-14.

Also see a replay of Tom Marshburn ’82 and Davidson students

And see Tom Marshburn’s 2010 address to a college audience in the Duke Family Performance Hall.

VIDEO and Star-Gazing: Flying High with NASA Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82 on the International Space Station



Updated 3:11 p.m., April 23: This just in, NPR reel of Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s wet towel video, Tom in background.

The 450-acre patch of piedmont North Carolina that is Davidson College felt like the top of the world on Earth Day, Monday, April 22, 2013. We beamed our voices 230 miles into the heavens and alumnus Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82 in turn beamed his voice and image back to us in the C. Shaw Smith 900 Room from the International Space Station, answering student questions across the spectrum and performing gravity-free parlor tricks that were out of this world! Kudos all around Davidson College and Johnson Space Center in Houston for “take two,” following a previous setup that included some technical difficulties on the audio side.

Watch a replay of the event.

Wave at Tom and crew from your backyard tonight, in the Davidson area: Tue Apr 23 9:46 PM, Visible: 2 min, Max Height: 54 degrees, Appears: NNW, Disappears: N. For other locations, visit the NASA Spot the Station alert page.

More Links

@AstroMarshburn on Twitter

Full Daybook coverage

Marshburn article in Davidson Journal

NASA homepage

NASA Expedition 35 Mission Summary



TODAY! NASA Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82 Downlink in Union at 4:05 p.m.!


This morning, Astronaut Tom Marshburn, M.D. ’82 wrote me in response to a wardrobe question: “I packed my Davidson pennant and shirt into a small return package that returned safely to Earth on the Dragon.  That was my only chance to get them back home, since they can’t go with me on my Soyuz when I return…. See you later today!”

It’s okay if Tom’s not in Davidson gear for this afternoon’s livestream video downlink. Nearly 100 Davidson students have signed up to be in the 900 Room studio that Jim “Big Dog” Nash and his fine team are putting together, and many of them will doubtless be in Wildcat garb. The event’s emcee, Richardson Professor of Physics Larry Cain, will even wear a Davidson T-shirt that Tom took up on his first space flight!

There will be monitors in the overflow area on the Davis Cafe level of the Union, in addition to the livestream. The event is free and open to the public; seating is limited. Doors will close at 3:55 p.m. and the half-hour question and answer session will begin at approximately 4:05 p.m.


@AstroMarshburn on Twitter

NASA homepage

Expedition 35 Mission Summary

Daybook coverage

Marshburn article in Davidson Journal

Davidson Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82 Heads to Russian Quarantine; Lift-Off Scheduled Dec. 19


On a clammy, gray Monday morning that does not feel like December in Davidson, Tom Marshburn ’82 (left) broadens the mind’s landscape to the Russian winter and far beyond with this photo of himself and his fellow space travelers, Canadian Chris Hadfield (right) and Russian Roman Romanenko (center).

The three posed for a last snapshot just moments before their departure from Russia to Kazakhstan and quarantine. Their six-month mission to the International Space Station, Expedition 35, is scheduled to launch Dec. 19.

Bon voyage and godspeed, Tom!

Click here for story and links.

From Russia With Love: Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82 Is Almost Out of This World Again


I was home sick and watching daytime basic cable (I was really sick), just channel-surfing along and—hey, wait, I know that guy! It was Tom Marshburn, M.D. ’82, Davidson Wildcat astronaut, talking with crewmates about preparations for their upcoming mission. I perked right up, and learned that Marshburn will be a flight engineer on NASA Expeditions 34 and 35 on the International Space Station. He’s currently scheduled to launch on Dec. 19 for a six-month stint (give or take an Earthling day). Here is a starter NASA page to learn more about his pending adventures. He’s on Twitter @AstroMarshburn.

Click for article.

I emailed Tom, who has visited campus and whom we have featured in the Davidson Journal. What a nice guy [drum roll]—very down to earth.

He wrote right back: “Right now I’m back in Russia, having just completed my last training tour in the U.S. with a chance to get everything squared away at my home. It’s chilly here—drops below freezing at night, and no snow yet but it always seems about to come. Ahead are my final ‘exams,’ simulations with my 2 crewmates in the Soyuz spacecraft where we demonstrate our ability to handle emergencies during launch, rendezvous with the Space Station, and re-entry to Earth.  In 3 weeks I head for Kazakhstan to enter quarantine in a compound not far from the launch site.  We’ll take off from the same pad that Yuri Gagarin launched from 51 years ago.”

Tom graciously offered to put a few email addresses into the NASA “safe” database so he can receive missives from alma mater in the e-packets that NASA will beam up to the Space Station. Got a question? Send it along to me at or post it to the Daybook Davidson Facebook page, and I’ll pass it along.

Tom Marshburn ’82 enjoyed meeting with students of Associate Professor of Physics John Yukich (left) on a visit to Davidson.

“Like most alums I look back with great fondness on my Davidson years, especially this time of year, and I’d love to maintain the connection,” Tom wrote. And he’s already sent a few Wildcat items ahead to orbit: “I did order a pennant and a new t-shirt, which is actually on-board the Space Station now! I had a chance to send up a few ‘personal preference items,’ and the pennant and t-shirt are included.  They launched on an Ariane rocket out of French Guiana early this year, and I was informed that those items were transferred over the hatch to wait for me until I arrive.”

There’s no place like home. Bon voyage and godspeed, Tom!




President Carol Quillen: What’s In Your Elevator Speech?


This just in from a campuswide “town meeting” with President Carol Quillen and several enthusiastic hundreds of her closest campus friends.

It was standing room only during Common Hour in the Lilly Family Gallery, 11:05 a.m., Sept. 3, 2013.

“What will be different because we had this meeting?” Carol Quillen asked the crowd. “I hope you leave here with a sense of the high level of aspiration we have for the next several years, as well as a sense of objectives we hope to accomplish this academic year.”

President Carol Quillen: “Inspired not by fears of what we might lose, but by dreams of what we can accomplish.” (photo Bill Giduz)

Against a backdrop of stunning campus photography, compelling video clips and a few brief, concise and specific bullet points about Davidson’s most current themes and aspirations, Quillen called forth the good will and good work of Davidson’s staff, faculty, students, alumni, parents, friends and partners—up to and including those we have not yet met.

That’s a lot.

So, what would your 60-second “elevator speech” be to someone who knows nothing of Davidson? Quillen asked the crowd at one point during Q & A.

But first, Quillen deployed her formidable skills at evoking the Davidson of this moment—this very present and changing moment—in the collective mind assembled. Together, she said, we have designed new facilities, built and strengthened “Transition to Impact” initiatives, capped the strongest fundraising year in history, created new courses of study, and recruited the best faculty and staff nationwide. Among many other things.

“It’s an iterative process,” she said, “and we need your continued guidance to make it work.”

Quillen touched on many facets of the Davidson character that reflect brightly into the world, including the Honor Code, Division I athletics, growing relationships in Charlotte, and The Davidson Trust. “How do we pay for all of it?” someone asked in a video clip. Quillen responded that to stand fast in who we are and what we are about, with an endowment notably smaller than many peers, we are seeking more funding from people who do not yet know us. See “elevator speech” above.

Yes, we are reimagining the liberal arts, Quillen continued, and our commitment to the liberal arts ideal grows stronger.

“Approaching the liberal arts educational philosophy as a historian,” said Quillen, a history Ph.D., “I can tell you it hasn’t changed much since the 15th century!”

That said, it is 2013. “Our subjects, programs and methods change over time,” she said.

Then she moved outward from a classroom perspective to the broader, quotidian life of the mind, body and spirit at a small, residential, liberal arts college like Davidson. With a fine and heartfelt tip of the hat to President Emeritus Sam Spencer for his visionary work to help diversify Davidson in terms of race and gender in the 1960s and 1970s, Quillen sprang forward to more recent strategic planning themes that Davidson’s people—many of them in the room—were engaged in even before her arrival: interdisciplinarity, global perspectives, sustainability in all its senses, diversity and inclusion to match and meet the world we live in.

On the “excellence and access” plank of the platform that must accompany and support diversity and inclusion, Quillen stated the case succinctly: “Economic opportunity must be more than two words we say.”

On Davidson’s ethos of leadership and service, and the resulting disproportionate impact for good in the world, she let a long and growing list of alumni examples do the heavy lifting, including Tim ’00 and Brian ’07 Helfrich’s Summit Coffee just down Main Street, OrthoCarolina CEO Dan Murrey ’87 in Charlotte, Lowell Bryan ’68 and Steve Justus ’78 at the Touch Foundation, the civil rights advocacy of Yale law professor and GLBT advocate Bill Eskridge ’73, Agnes Scott President Elizabeth Kiss ’83, Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx ’93, education accessibility advocate Tiffany Hollis ’04, scientific researcher Rachel McCord ’04, educator and spoken-word artist Clint Smith ’10, Colgate University Provost Doug Hicks ’90…. The list went on.

Back to the tasks at hand for ensuring that this list continue to go on, Quillen reviewed, renewed and refreshed many specific programs and initiatives for “exploring what’s possible” this academic year and beyond.

She encouraged staff and faculty to get outside their departments and meet their colleagues from across campus: “Ask how what they do relates to what you do. That’s where some really great ideas come from.”

Those who know Davidson best, she said, should call attention in Admission to students who would be a good fit here, particularly those who might not apply without encouragement.

We should ask ourselves what makes Davidson different, and what it is and what it is becoming. And each person who comes in the door—students most obviously, and by extension everyone—gets to help decide just exactly what Davidson is and what it’s becoming.

That’s inclusion, said Quillen.

So, staff, faculty, students, alumni, parents, friends and partners, what’s your 60-second elevator speech about Davidson College?

Sure Is Quiet Out There: Davidson Poised Between Semester and Summer


Summer reading kickoff: Random links that reveal Davidson in bits and pieces.

Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82 once described to me in an interview how it feels when the rocket engine of your space capsule suddenly stops thrusting you skyward and, with no fanfare although you know it’s coming, drops you into orbit. From massive g-forces roaring under your backside to a feeling of simultaneous motionlessness and falling forward, silent and weightless in space as time itself begins to reconfigure.

Installation of Waves III by Jaume Plensa. A lot of work goes into creating the space for thoughts between thoughts. (Click to enlarge.)

The Davidson campus feels like that the week after graduation. For long stretches of time this week across Chambers Lawn, it’s been nothing but random grown-ups and squirrels and the occasional muffled banging of physical plant crews renovating Little Hall dorm. The first day, it was so quiet I could barely think.

Then, in the “thoughts between thoughts” that Professor and Chair of Art Cort Savage so eloquently evoked at the recent dedication of the campus’s new Jaume Plensa sculpture, I began, again this year, to sense the deeper spirit of the place itself—the spirits and voices of the land and the buildings and the people who’ve come before, alive and well in all the ways that matter most, yet oh-so-quiet until you pay attention in summer lulls. Open a yearbook for a virtual stroll, and you’ll remember, too.

Kevin Hubbard ’11 (blue shirt) and parents (left) strike a pose with freshly minted alumnus Connor Hubbard ’13. (Click to enlarge.)

For now I’m still hearing hear the echoes of the voices of those we’ve most recently sent out, my student friends and now fellow alumni whose taillights we watched disappear Sunday afternoon. It strikes me that graduation is a bridge not only for these freshly-minted graduates and their families, but for those of us who stay here, a bridge we cross every year.

And the warming sun filters through the trees on a campus suddenly quiet and weightless, as time itself reconfigures into summerti-i-i-ime….


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