CSU alum looks forward to International Space Station mission

photo of Kjell Lindgren

Astronaut Kjell Lindgren talks with a member of his thesis committee, Robert Gotshall, a retired professor of Health and Exercise Science, during a visit to the CSU campus in April 2014.

Colorado State University alumnus and astronaut Kjell Lindgren fielded questions this week about his upcoming mission to the International Space Station, shedding light on everything from his favorite foods to the research he’s looking forward to conducting.

NASA poster
Lindgren came up with the idea for this Star Wars-themed poster featuring members of the upcoming expedition. Scott Kelly, the subject of Susan Bailey’s research, is lower right. (Click to enlarge.)

Lindgren, who received his master’s degree in cardiovascular physiology from CSU in 1996, participated in a news conference Wednesday with his two fellow crew members in Expedition 44/45, a six-month mission that launches on July 22.

“We’re ready to fly,” said Lindgren, who will be experiencing his first space flight. “Amidst the hustle and bustle of preparations, I try to reflect on this amazing opportunity we’re about to embark on.”

Another CSU link

Lindgren isn’t the only CSU connection to the mission. Susan Bailey, a professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, is heading one of only 10 NASA studies to measure the impacts of space travel on the human body. Bailey and other scientists will be monitoring astronaut Scott Kelly during his stay on the station, which began earlier than Lindgren’s, on March 27. Over the course of a year, researchers will compare changes in Scott’s body to his twin brother Mark, who will remain on Earth as an experimental control. Bailey and her team are doing similar studies on Lindgren and other unrelated astronauts, evaluating telomeres and telomerase activity, important biomarkers of stress and aging.

Lindgren cited that research and related experiments on how extended stays in space cause bone loss and muscle atrophy among the scientific projects he’s most eager to undertake. (At CSU, he wrote his master’s thesis about body fluid shifts during space travel.) The ultimate goal, he said, is to help NASA learn more about space’s long-term impacts in preparation for a manned trip to Mars.

“It’s really exciting to be part of that,” Lindgren said, noting that he’s looking forward to feeling those effects for the first time, after caring for astronauts as a NASA flight surgeon. “This is going to be a unique opportunity to experience it firsthand.”

photo of Kjell Lindgren
Lindgren autographs a photo of himself during his visit to campus in spring 2014.

At the news conference, held at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, the three astronauts fielded questions from reporters and students about their training, use of social media and favorite meals in space.

When fellow astronaut Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency listed curry with rice as his top food choice, Lindgren agreed.

“He’s going to have to protect his food storage,” he said with a laugh. “And I’ve been told that the barbecued brisket is really good.”

Seeing Earth

Lindgren said seeing the Earth from space is what he is looking forward to most.

“My colleagues tell me that the pictures don’t do the Earth justice,” he said, pledging to tweet photos from the station. “The colors are so vibrant.”

Lindgren’s biggest challenge in the transition from flight surgeon to astronaut? Maintaining his fluency in the field of space medicine so that he can be a resource to his team members if necessary. And he cited the time away from his family as the most difficult part of training.

photo of Kjell Lindgren
Lindgren shakes hands with CSU Chief of Staff Mark Gill while Provost and Executive Vice President Rick Miranda looks on in April 2014.

“But my wife and kids are incredibly supportive of this adventure, and we’ve been able to share the experience along the way,” Lindgren said, explaining that he does a lot of teleconferencing with his family. “So they have to see my face almost every day.”

When asked to describe one another, Yui and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko characterized Lindgren as educated, calm, curious, multi-talented, kind and helpful.

“We all have a similar sense of humor, which really helped us during training,” Kononenko said.