Astronaut assumes advisory role for science in space at Tennessee Tech University

The sense of wonderment former NASA astronaut Roger Crouch learned from a past professor has drawn him back to help Tennessee Tech University.

Crouch recently took on the title of the Frederick L. Culp Professor of Physics and plans to serve in an advisory role to the university on projects focusing on science in space. The name of the professorship is in tribute to Culp, chairperson emeritus and pioneer in TTU’s Physics Department.

“He approached physics differently from other professors,” said Crouch. “He presented it as fun and showed us the simplicity of the science that helps explain life. That wonderment is what NASA and space science is all about.”

Crouch, a 1962 TTU graduate, joined NASA immediately after graduation and earned his master’s degrees and doctorate at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He served as a payload specialist on the first and second flights of NASA’s Microgravity Science Laboratory mission that flew aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997.

Now as a senior scientist for the International Space Station at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., he works closely with space station researchers and serves as a liaison between NASA’s science team and the non-NASA scientific community as well as the general public.

Crouch will play a similar role at TTU, working in association with several projects, said TTU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Marvin Barker.

Crouch, a native of Jamestown, Tenn., says he understands what encouragement and opportunity can mean to students from rural areas. In fact, his NASA career might not have flourished if not for the encouragement he received.

When Culp stepped in as chairman of the Physics Department, he inherited only a few physics majors, including Crouch. He remembers Crouch as the quietest and shyest of four bright students in his advanced physics classes.

“Of course, no student was ever as bright as Roger was, but there was no clue that he would be the one to lead such an exciting life,” said Culp. “Thinking back, Roger’s personality was like Clark Kent and his achievements were more like Superman.”
It was the Clark Kent side of Crouch that worried when he performed poorly on a thermodynamics mid-term exam. Discouraged, the self-described “country boy” took heart when Culp stopped him in the student union a few days later.

“I told him ‘You have the ability, I have no doubt,’” said Culp. “He measured up in ways beyond his intelligence, and I wanted to help him conquer any inner doubts.”
Culp’s few words of encouragement made all the difference in how Crouch approached his future.

“I was stunned that he believed in me and vowed not to let Dr. Culp down again,” said Crouch. “I’ve never forgotten that he took the extra step, and I gained tremendous respect for him.”

Crouch said he will also collaborate with the university to promote distance learning and the use of virtual classrooms to help reach students in rural areas with new opportunities.