Texas Master Naturalist program volunteers have gone to many interesting and out-of-the-way places, but NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren will be the first person from the program to go into space.
Lindgren, who is commanding the SpaceX Crew-4 shuttle to the International Space Station, is a member of the Gulf Coast Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist program. He and other NASA astronauts Robert Hines and Jessica Watkins, along with European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, are part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program tentatively scheduled for launch the week of April 25-30.
“Our Texas Master Naturalist program and family are honored and proud to have Kjell Lindgren among the ranks of our volunteers,” said Michelle Haggerty, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department state coordinator for the Texas Master Naturalist program. “The experience, research acumen and perspective Kjell has and will be able to further bring to the program — and to the world, really — will enrich our knowledge of our natural resources and our stewardship efforts for years to come. “
A dedication to Earth and its natural resources
The Texas Master Naturalist program is a collaborative volunteer program of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said Mary Pearl Meuth, AgriLife Extension Texas Master Naturalist assistant state coordinator, Bryan-College Station.
With 48 chapters in 213 Texas counties, the program strives to develop a corps of well-informed volunteers to provide education, outreach and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities.
Lindgren joined the Texas Master Naturalist Gulf Coast Chapter’s training class and earned his certification in 2021.
Rebecca Lloyd, president of the TMN’s Gulf Coast Chapter, said Lindgren and his wife have been involved in a number of chapter projects, including the Texas Butterfly Monitoring Network, the Armchair Botanist program of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas and Armand Bayou trail guiding.
“We’re excited to have one of our Texas Master Naturalists going into space,” Lloyd said. “It’s great that Dr. Lindgren thinks highly enough of the program to be actively involved in it and to collaborate with other volunteers to help educate people on the conservation issues about which they are all so passionate.”
She added that having a NASA astronaut involved in the Texas Master Naturalist program is a great compliment to the organization.
About Texas Master Naturalist volunteers
Although this is a special and unique situation to have a Texas Master Naturalist volunteer go into space, the efforts of the program’s volunteers here on Earth are equally important, Meuth said. Texas Master Naturalist volunteers include people from various professions and all walks of life.
“Whether they contribute 40 hours or 1,000 hours of volunteer work, they are all dedicated to natural resource conservation and educating others about the importance of protecting and respecting our natural world,” she said.
“We now have a Texas Master Naturalist astronaut who’ll be able to view our state’s natural resources and green spaces from space while his fellow group of dedicated volunteers serves in their communities on Earth. This scenario is both figuratively and literally an example of seeing things globally and acting locally to make a difference.”
Lindgren has also been invited to be the keynote speaker for the Texas Master Naturalist annual meeting in October.
About Lindgren the astronaut
Formally trained in medicine, Lindgren earned his doctorate of medicine from the University of Colorado and is board certified in emergency medicine. In June 2009, he was selected as one of 14 members of the 20th NASA astronaut class.
Lindgren has flown on Expedition 44/45 to the space station and has logged 141 days in space. In addition, he has participated in two spacewalks and in more than a hundred different scientific experiments. That research included work with the “Veggie” lettuce experiment which represented the first time a U.S. crew has eaten a crop grown on orbit.
Meuth said although his decades of training and previous experiences with space have prepared him for this journey, this spaceflight is one to remember for many on Earth because it will include a nod to the Texas Master Naturalist program.
Livestream from the International Space Station
In June, Lindgren is scheduled to conduct a public webinar event related to the Texas Master Naturalist program from the International Space Station, Meuth said. The Master Naturalists are particularly excited and honored he chose the program for a Crew’s Choice downlink event from space.
“The astronauts get their choice to do a private or public downlink event from space, and Dr. Lindgren has chosen to communicate with other Master Naturalists while in space,” Meuth said. “There will be an opportunity for participants to ask him questions.”
She said the event and ability for other Master Naturalists to connect with one of their own in space is an exciting and unique opportunity.
“We’ll get a chance to learn about his experience with the Texas Master Naturalist program from space and ask questions about his research while aboard the ISS. It will be a great opportunity to educate other volunteers.”
About the mission patch
Lindgren isn’t the only one giving a nod to the Texas Master Naturalist program on this space mission. His daughter Alexandra, a sophomore pursuing a degree in marketing at Texas A&M University, designed the official patch the crew will be wearing wear on their mission.
“The patch incorporates a dragonfly, which happens to be a symbol of the Texas Master Naturalist program,” Meuth said. “But it also symbolizes hope, and that’s another reason it was the key image selected to be incorporated onto the crew’s patch.”
On the patch, an image of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft capsule forms the dragonfly’s thorax. Four bright stars represent the four crew members and the support of their families. The remaining stars represent the multitude of people from NASA and SpaceX, as well as the international partner teams collaborating on the mission.
General info on the launch and mission
For this mission, a Falcon 9 rocket will launch the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, which the Crew-4 mission team has named Freedom, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will monitor a series of automatic maneuvers, guiding the Dragon craft to the International Space State. After a series of adjustments, the Dragon will be in position to rendezvous and dock with the station — a maneuver designed to be autonomous, but the crew may take control if needed.
Lindgren and the other crew members are expected to stay on the space station for up to six months, conducting science and maintenance before returning to Earth sometime this fall. Among other activities, the crew will do research relative to the manufacture of artificial human retinas, the use of wireless technology, software for use in free-flying robots and satellites, techniques for growing plants without soil, and medical monitoring.
More information about the Space X Crew-4 team, their vehicles and launch schedule can be found at https://blogs.nasa.gov/crew-4/. For additional launch and live-streaming details, go to https://tx.ag/TMNinSpace.