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
“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
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
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.”