NASA astronaut visits family in Demopolis

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 27, 2007

If his 17-year involvement with the Hubble telescope were all he had to talk about, F. Story Musgrave&8217;s life would be interesting enough.

But that would leave out experiences enough to fill several average ordinary lifetimes.

Musgrave worked with NASA for 30 years. During that time he flew six shuttle missions. He spent his time on the ground designing and &8220;choreographing&8221; the mission procedures.

He left NASA in 1997 after being told he would not be scheduled for any more missions, but since then his life has remained just as interesting &8212; new wife, new daughter, several new businesses.

Musgrave visited Demopolis over the Thanksgiving holiday with his wife, Amanda, their 18-month-old daughter, Story &8212; named for her father &8212; and stepdaughter.

Amanda grew up in Providence, the daughter of Kenny and Cheryl Malone. The Musgraves came to the area to visit her grandparents, Frank and Sylvia Malone, as well as Amanda&8217;s extended Malone family.

While here Musgrave answered scores of questions from the curious, signed lots of autographs and handed out copies of his biography, &8220;Story: The Way of Water,&8221; by Anne E. Lenehan.

Musgrave&8217;s childhood in Stockbridge, Mass., was anything but a happy one.

Born into a nightmare family situation, by the time he was three-years-old, &8220;the earliest I can remember,&8221; he came to the conclusion he could depend only on himself. &8220;I am a survivor.

I&8217;m going to be self-reliant,&8221; he decided.

The independent boy built and sailed a raft on the river near his home at the age of five and was driving and repairing all the farm machinery by the time he was 10.

He left school in 1953 before graduating and several months later joined the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 17. Musgrave&8217;s natural intelligence led him to complete his GED, and the Marines continued to educate him for the next two years. Eventually he earned graduate degrees in math, computer technology, chemistry, physiology, literature and history.

In the process, he also earned a medical degree.

Having so many interests was a natural offshoot of Musgrave&8217;s innate curiosity. He wanted to know how things worked, and one interest led to another.

Musgrave had soloed in an aircraft when he was 16. During his stint in the Marines, however, he learned more about airplanes, and his interest became a life-long passion. He is qualified to fly scores of aircraft, but he holds a special love of the T-38, which celebrates its 50th year of service in 2008.

Musgrave has 8,000 hours in the T-38.

From the time he was a small boy, Musgrave enjoyed working on engines and keeping his family&8217;s farm machinery running.

When the time came to apply to NASA, he believes he was hired because &8220;I knew how to fix things,&8221; he said.

Of course, the fact that he was a scientist and experienced pilot were also in his favor.

He joined the NASA program early enough to be able to do some experimentation on his own.

He worked for 12 years in designing suits for the astronauts to wear and 17 years on the Hubble telescope. In all of his 30 years with NASA, he was the researcher and developer.

Once he left NASA, he continued creating things.

&8220;Everything I do today is designing experiences for other people,&8221; he said.

Those things include a landscape company in Orlando, film production company in Sydney, Australia; sculpture company in Burbank, as an artist with Disney Imagineering, innovator with Applied Minds, Inc., and a professor of design with the Art Center College in Pasadena.

In all of his projects, &8220;we work with beauty,&8221; he said. &8220;We get our beauty from the cosmos. We express human phenomena in terms of the beauty of the cosmos.&8221;

Even his favorite plane, the T-38, he describes in those terms. &8220;It was born in beauty,&8221; he said. Nothing designed since then has been able to beat it, which is why the T-38 continues to be used today. &8220;I&8217;m privileged to have spent&8221; so much time flying the plane, he said.

His focus on beauty has led him to be called &8220;the beauty professor.&8221; He is working on what he described as a kind of textbook about beauty to be published in the near future.

When not on the road overseeing all his various projects, Musgrave is at home on his farm in Florida. The father of seven and grandfather of three looked across the room to his young namesake, and his eyes grew soft. Little Story is &8220;the light of my life,&8221; he said. &8220;None of this other stuff means anything.&8221;