Photo: Norma Lopez Molina
Florida "Icon" Winston Scott
Winston Scott is a 'Florida Icon'
Shuttle astronaut, senior vice president, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, age 65
I’m on the flight deck, looking out the front window. I’m on my back, and the countdown is happening. You can hear it. You can feel it. About seven seconds to go. The main engines start, and you’ve got all this shaking and vibrating and smoke and fire billowing up around the wind screen. At zero, the solid rocket boosters ignite, and you release from the pad. When you see it on television, it looks like it lifts off in slow motion, just sort of rises up, but in reality it’s — boom! It jumps off the pad and kicks you in the butt. It’s like riding an old truck along a rocky, dirt road.
Through the ninth grade, I attended segregated schools in Miami. Actually, it had a very good influence on me in some ways. The teachers and the community were very, very dedicated to us youngsters. They wanted to do the best they could for us. Our teachers were really good, brilliant people, as good as any you’d find anyplace else. They were concerned about our future and did everything they could to see that we got the best education that we possibly could. What we did not have, and what we didn’t know at the time, was good infrastructure and good equipment.
When I was little, machines fascinated me. I’d open up my toys to see how they worked. I’d cut up Christmas tree lights and hook them up to batteries. I was a kid who naturally should have gone into engineering, but I didn’t know what engineering was.
Being a trumpet player, my most favorite jazz artist is Miles Davis.
I think people who allow themselves to be unidimensional are doing themselves a disservice.
At Florida Tech, we have a music program because we realize that students who study math and science and engineering are also quite often very good musicians.
I loved to fly from day one in the Navy, especially fighter jets. I knew I would. I was always the little kid playing with toy airplanes. I still fly. I have a Saratoga, a good traveling plane. Most of my travel, I do myself.
At Florida State, I was studying music, and my roommate was an engineering major. Watching what he was doing, it awakened something inside me. I realized that engineering was what I was supposed to be studying.
I almost didn’t apply to be an astronaut. I remember sitting around the dinner table with a Navy buddy of mine and my wife. This buddy, we were both becoming senior enough that we might have to go to D.C. and do the Washington,D. C., part of our military career, and I made an off-handed remark about maybe wanting to be an astronaut, but I didn’t know if I had the right qualifications. They both looked at me and said I needed to apply. That whole night, it was in the back of my mind. I went to work the next day, talked to my commanding officer, and he wanted me to apply, too, so I thought I’d do it once and see what happens. Over the next year and a half, when the field kept getting narrowed down, my name kept staying in. Roughly 3,000 people started, and I was one of the 19 selected. It felt like a dream.
In high school, I thought I was going to be a musician. I played rock, jazz, concert music. I thought I’d be a performer and a composer and perhaps a teacher.
While I’m not the kind of researcher who will work in a lab and cure cancer, I thought the way I could contribute to bettering life on Earth through scientific research was by becoming an astronaut.
I love being challenged and pushed. I’m always looking to get better.
Our funding for NASA is not as clear and steady as I’d like to see it. For example, NASA is moving toward the Orion crew capsule and the heavy lift rocket to take astronauts back into space, but the funding is inadequate.
I play the trumpet regularly. I direct the advanced jazz ensemble here on campus. I write, arrange and I actually play with the group. I also play with some groups around town. There are some musicians around town, and we’ve put together the Winston Scott Cosmic Jazz Ensemble.
It concerns me that we don’t have enough youth, especially minority youth, going into the engineering, science, mathematics, space and aviation fields.
Because of the sheer number of planets, I do believe that there’s life somewhere else in the universe.
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