Astronaut alumnus phones home from the International Space Station

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren corrals the supply of fresh fruit that arrived at the International Space Station Aug. 25 on the Kounotori 5 H-II Transfer Vehicle. (Photo provided by NASA)

C.W. Miller got an out-of-this-world telephone call at his office in the Physiology Building this week, when astronaut-alumnus Kjell Lindgren buzzed from the International Space Station.

You read that right. Lindgren phoned Miller from space.

CSU Biomedical Sciences professor C.W. Miller welcomes NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren to campus, April 17, 2014. (Photo by William A. Cotton/CSU Photography)
CSU Biomedical Sciences Professor C.W. Miller welcomes NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren to campus in April 2014. (Photo by William A. Cotton/CSU Photography)

Mind. Blown.

“I picked up the phone, and the voice said, ‘It’s Kjell. How are you?’” said Miller, a professor who’d been meeting with students about disorders of arterial blood pressure.

“Who?” I said.

“‘Kjell,’ he repeated. ‘Oh my God!’ I said to the students in my office, ‘It’s the astronaut — Kjell Lindgren!’” Miller recounted.

There were none of the reception problems you might expect. Can you hear me now? What about now?

“I almost thought Kjell was back home, the reception was so crisp,” said Miller, head of undergraduate education in the Department of Biomedical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Miller knew Lindgren well when the astronaut was working on his master’s degree in cardiovascular physiology at CSU, almost 20 years before he launched into space on July 22. Lindgren, who also earned a medical degree, is a specialist in aerospace medicine on NASA Expedition 44/45; he is conducting and overseeing studies about the effects of space flight on the human body.

What about the effects on Miller of a call from space? He’s over the moon.

Q: What did you talk about?

Astronaut and CSU alum Kjell Lindgren had a hand in designing this Star Wars-themed crew poster for his NASA mission to the International Space Station. (Photo provided by NASA)
Astronaut and CSU alum Kjell Lindgren had a hand in designing this Star Wars-themed crew poster for his NASA mission to the International Space Station. (Photo provided by NASA)

A: I was so overwhelmed, I am not sure. I remember that we talked about how excited he is about his opportunity to view the world and to conduct experiments up there.

Q: What was your first thought right after you hung up?

A: I thought, “Wow, he thought of me up there in space.” What a treat and privilege to hear from Kjell some 250 miles above Earth. I sat silently in my chair for a couple of minutes and took some deep breaths.

Q: What is your history with Kjell?

A: I was involved with Kjell when he was a graduate student in the Department of Physiology (now Biomedical Sciences). Kjell’s adviser was the late Dr. Alan Tucker, who was an incredibly effective adviser and supporter of Kjell. We talked about my recent lunch with Dr. Tucker’s daughter and wife in connection with recognizing the student recipient of the scholarship funded in his honor.

Q: What’s the one thing you wish you would have asked him?

A: What are the findings to this point in one of your favorite research projects?

Q: Will this go into your “Top 10 Life Moments?”

A: Yes, most certainly it will be in my Top 10. I am a sentimental person, so when something like this happens — someone traveling at over 17,000 mph around the Earth and they think of little ol’ me, it gets to me. It’s right up there with the birth of my daughters.

Photo by Bill Stafford
Photo by Bill Stafford

Q: What is your favorite memory with Kjell from his time at CSU?

A: I can remember as if it were yesterday. Kjell was always a very bright, energetic graduate student with a can-do attitude. I will remember him as having it all together — lots of fun to be with.

Q: What is your advice to him while he’s in space?

A: Continue to be humble. He promised to come back to CSU when the mission is complete. I look forward to watching him inspire others to gain confidence in themselves after watching his accomplishments. Kjell is in a very elite group of individuals — a few hundred in the world.

And just like that, Miller’s head was back in the stratosphere. “I have since emailed Kjell to thank him for the uplifting call, and he has already responded. Do you think I feel special? Yes!”