Space institute in Tullahoma shapes astronauts for NASA

Space Institute in Tullahoma

TULLAHOMA, Tenn. (WKRN) – For this week’s Middle Tennessee Monday, News 2 visited one of Tullahoma’s best kept secrets.

The University of Tennessee Space Institute is where dozens of astronauts learned the knowledge that helped get them to NASA.

Scott Kelly and Barry Willmore are just a few of Middle Tennessee’s own.

Space Institute in Tullahoma
The University of Tennessee Space Institute is where dozens of astronauts learned the knowledge that helped get them to NASA.

“Many of these guys apply for the astronaut corps, but only a few are chosen. Naturally if those are chosen that took our program that makes us proud that we were helpful in their careers. If they are now in a space station and looking back on planet Earth and maybe reflecting on where they learned their ropes that makes us particularly proud,” Professor Dr. Peter Solies said.

Scott Kelly recently took off on one of the longest space mission’s to date.

He’s just a few weeks into a year at the International Space Station.

Barry Wilmore, of Murfreesboro, just got back from a space mission last month.

They both learned the basics in Tullahoma.

“Sometimes things happen that are unforeseen,” explained Dr. Solies. “If something breaks in the space station that wasn’t pre-meditated and they don’t have a ready fix if they have the knowledge and the background that they learned from our courses that may help them to come up with a solution while they are on the line.”

They have some of the country’s most exclusive training tools to work with.

The flight simulator is where students spend most of their time and wind tunnels to test how things that they build will do as they leave the earth’s atmosphere.

They also have what they call a vacuum chamber where they can simulate exactly what it would be like to be in space. It’s cold, dark and airless.

Whether it’s a military jet, or a rocket, the future is these classrooms.

“That’s why I’m in this teaching profession. I could be touching the future,” Dr. Solies said. “That can be very rewarding. Not everyone becomes an astronaut, but our graduates do good things.”

But not everyone is there to be an astronaut.

They train some of the country’s best flight test engineers and they build planes which is just as cool.

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