Leroy Chiao served as a NASA astronaut from 1990-2005. During his 15-year career, he flew four missions into space, three times on space shuttles and once as the copilot of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station. On that flight, he served as the commander of Expedition 10, a six-and-a-half-month mission. Dr. Chiao has performed six spacewalks, in both U.S. and Russian spacesuits, and has logged nearly 230 days in space. Chiao is also the father of twins, a girl and a boy, age 6. Discovery News' space producer Ian O'Neill spoke with him recently to discuss his hopes for the future of spaceflight and how his unique experiences in space shaped him as a father.
Ian O'Neill: The first question that came to mind is, obviously, have your twins expressed any early interest in following daddy's career path as an astronaut?
Leroy Chiao: I've really tried not to push them at all toward the direction I've chosen or anything like that. My wife and I agree that the plan should be, and is, to expose them to as many things as we can and then let them choose and figure out what they have a passion for and encourage them to go their own direction.
At different times my son has said "I wanna be an astronaut," but really most of the time he's thinking about other things. He's actually had a real fascination for the work medical doctors do. So if I had to guess right now, I'd say he's gearing himself toward that. He's really fascinated about the body and what the organs do. My daughter is also more focused on medicine, but lately she's been more interested in ballet! So they're kind of all over the place, which is exactly what they should be doing at this age.
But generally, I think the best thing any parent can do is to expose kids to as many things as possible and then let them figure out what gets them excited and what they have a passion for.
Being an astronaut is great, I've certainly had wonderful experiences and I'm fortunate to have had those experiences. But I know that being an astronaut makes people on the ground worry about you, so if they were to choose my profession, I would worry about them even though I didn't worry about myself.