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Summer 2005 Issue
    Cover Article
    Message from the Director
    Alumni Profile: Jambo
    Wild Side of Medicine
    Reaching New Heights
    NOLS Expands Leadership Training
    The 1st WEMT Course
    Tim Mulvey, NOLS' most enduring student
    30 Days to Success
    Jim Ratz & the birth of LNT
    The Pyle Family: 3 Generations of NOLS
    Nothing Says NOLS Like Wind Pants
    NOLS on MTV and Discovery
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Reaching New Heights
By Amy Rathke
Allen hard at work on Columbia in November 1982. Allen was part of the four-man crew that took Columbia up on this first operational mission. Two years later he walked in space untethered as part of the November 1984 Discovery mission, assisting crewmate Dale Gardner in satellite repair.

Joe Allen, Ph.D., astronaut, NOLS parent, and member of the NOLS Board of Trustees, has embarked on some remarkable journeys in his time.

It’s hard to think of a situation on Earth that compares to Allen’s task on Discovery’s salvage mission in 1984. Wearing a jet-powered backpack, he exited the shuttle and walked in space untethered. His task: to retrieve a 1,200-pound malfunctioning satellite and hold it up for 90 minutes so that his crewmate, Dale Gardner, could work on it. The two astronauts then loaded the satellite into the cargo bay for return to Earth.

Allen first began working for NASA in 1967, and in the following years he served as a scientist-astronaut and flew on the 1982 Columbia space mission, in addition to his role on Discovery. He also served as support crew for Apollo 15 and Apollo 17.

His many years of service with NASA recently earned him induction into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.  Allen joins the ranks of such famous astronauts as John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldren.

Allen, a NOLS parent and member of the NOLS Board of Trustees. "I hope I bring genuine passion for the place," says Allen of his work for NOLS. "I'm pretty confident that I do."

Exploring space requires a careful balance of diligent caution and awe, says Allen. “Certainly you’re aware and enchanted by your environment, but you are also aware that some elements can be hazardous. You have to be careful, you have to be methodical.”

If Allen’s words sound similar to NOLS’ “plan ahead and prepare” philosophy, it’s no coincidence. The former astronaut considers the NOLS and NASA experiences to be closely linked.

“There is a similarity to being in the field, whether it’s in the Pacific Northwest or in a spaceship,” Allen says. “Travel and exposure to environments like this, which are just majestic, is very educational for any individual who has the good fortune to be exposed to them.  It teaches them about the environment but it also teaches about themselves and their home.

“You become aware of (your home), in some instances, for the first time in your life.  A space flight is very much like that; your home is of course the blue planet.” Many NOLS students can certainly relate to this idea — although rather than adjusting to life in the backcountry without fast food and television, Allen was adjusting to life in space where his orange juice floated and he slept suspended in midair.

These days, it is not unusual for many of NASA’s aspiring astronauts to take a NOLS course before they embark on their first expedition in space. Nearly 70% of astronauts who leave the Earth’s atmosphere today have first tested their interpersonal, risk management and leadership skills on the ground during an expedition with NOLS.

For Allen, this sequence from NOLS to NASA was reversed.

It wasn’t until Allen’s son David (Semester in Baja 1986, Rocky Mountain Outdoor Educator 1986, Rock Climbing 1989, Pacific Northwest Mountaineering 1997) took his first course on the Baja peninsula that Allen came in contact with the school.

“As a parent I’m very appreciative of NOLS and have become increasingly so as I’ve been more involved,” he says.  “Also, as a teacher I’m aware that people learn in different ways.” In addition to his career as an astronaut, Allen has held faculty positions at both Yale and the University of Washington — and he appreciates the unique style of teaching used at NOLS.

“I had a remarkable son who despised school.  It was just his nature — it bored him to tears.  The only school he ever went to that he liked was NOLS,” Allen explains.  “Indeed I think that NOLS is unique in the United States, and it deserves to be supported.”

Allen was selected to be Secretary of the NOLS Board of Trustees at the Board’s June meeting. A member of the Board since 2002, he contributes his perspective as a parent, educator and businessman. “Passion and dreams are good,” Allen points out.  “But every successful educational entity needs qualified educators.”

He sees the role of the Board of Trustees as crucial to allowing more students to experience learning with NOLS in the future. Allen’s brother, David, is a member of the NOLS Advisory Council. Allen’s membership with the Board will expire in 2008.

Though walks in space are no longer part of Allen’s daily routine, his missions today are no less important. “I hope I bring genuine passion for the place,” says Allen of his work for the NOLS Board. “I’m pretty confident that I do.”

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