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March 18, 2013
As an aspiring scientist in Baltimore in the 1970s, Robert Curbeam would stand at the end of his street and marvel at NASA's Skylab space station when he could see it floating in the sky. Decades later, as an astronaut, he would see space firsthand and put his STEM skills to use installing and repairing equipment on the International Space Station during several missions. Curbeam, 51, participated in three NASA spaceflights and was the first astronaut to complete four spacewalks during a single mission. He retired from the space agency in 2007 and now serves as vice president for mission assurance for Massachusetts-based aerospace and defense company Raytheon. Curbeam recently spoke with U.S. News about what sparked his early interest in science and engineering and how to inspire the next generation of STEM leaders. Excerpts:
What inspired you to study engineering?
When I was growing up, my mom was a chemistry teacher and I really, really took to it. When I started looking at colleges, I found out that I really had a keener interest in engineering. Also, when I was in middle school, I had a very good friend…[and] he and I used to spend a lot of time together trying to design a better car or a better plane, things like that. To us it just seemed like it made sense that there were so many things that didn't change about the car for so long that we could do it better at age 12 or 13.