Mike Mullane, a former NASA astronaut and Albuquerque native, visited UNM on Thursday to speak on his experience of life in space, as well as his motivations as a young man. 

The event was organized by the honors college and Leslie Donovan, an honors college professor who teaches “Space and New Mexico: From Aliens to the X-prize.” Students in the honors program are required to attend lectures by guest speakers throughout the semester to gain credit in their classes, Donovan said.

But, this time, she said she did not think it would be fair for students in the program to have the guest speaker all to themselves.

“He was very generous in his willingness to come talk to us,” Donovan said. “He has a very busy and tight schedule, and we are extremely honored and delighted to have him here.”

Mullane said he grew up in Albuquerque and graduated from St. Pius X High School before following his dream and becoming a mission specialist in the first group of NASA space shuttle astronauts in 1978. He graduated from West Point and later received his master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology.

His lecture touched on various aspects of aerospace, from how the toilets work to his opinion on alien existence. He even shared his motivations with those in attendance.

“I find that a passion for space is very unique,” Mullane said. “I call it the space gene, and only a small percentage of us have it. It’s amazing to me that so many people have never gone outside and looked up, or how many live in areas where they can’t look up and see it.”

During the lecture, students asked questions regarding his personal opinions, professional experiences and scientific expertise. Around the room many students were holding Mullane’s book “Riding Rockets,” an autobiography of his experiences as an astronaut.

“He talks about not being a genius,” Donovan said. “But he’s really good at a lot of stuff. His book is such a good read and he is a really great writer.”

The room was packed by the end of the lecture as students from the honors college, as well as from outside the program filled the chairs. Some even opted to sit against the wall on the far side of the room, laughing and staying attentive to all Mullane had to offer.

Douglas Brandt, a freshman medical services major, said that the honors college holds lectures like this every week, and that Mullane is just the latest in a series of captivating guests.

“The topics are always really diverse and the speakers are always so interesting,” Brandt said.

Mullane said when he was a kid he would go up to what is now the northeast heights area of Albuquerque to launch his homemade rockets, while looking up at the stars and satellites roaming the sky. Twenty-five years later, during his second mission with NASA, Mullane looked out of the space shuttle window and was able to look down on Albuquerque from space.

Mullane also provided the students with words of wisdom on how to achieve their dreams. He told them to set realistic goals, plan well, train well, and visualize success. He encouraged them to endure whatever storms they may go through along the way.

“Not everyone here wants to be an astronaut, wants to fly in space, or be in aerospace,” Mullane said. “But everybody wants a dream come true. And for that, you just have to do your best and be doggedly tenacious in pursuit of those dreams.”

Kayla Root is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @kaylamroot.