NASA astronaut and BHR grad Scott Tingle of Randolph talks to our students from the International Space Station
By Judy Bass
It’s not unusual for a graduate of a high school who has achieved notable success to return to speak to current students there to inspire and motivate them.
However, what was extremely unique about Blue Hills Regional grad Scott Tingle’s comeback to his alma mater in Canton on February 13 is that he did it from more than 200 miles above the Earth while he was aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
“This was an amazing experience for our students and the buzz about it being ‘cool’ lasted all afternoon,” said Blue Hills Principal Jill Rossetti. “Thank you to everyone who made this happen.”
Tingle, 52, of Randolph, graduated from Blue Hills in 1983. Even back then, his cherished dream was to someday be a NASA astronaut. Although many obstacles stood in his path, such as the sheer difficulty of becoming one of NASA’s most elite and intensively-trained representatives, Tingle was implacable in his resolve. He was going to be an astronaut, no matter what it took.
After earning a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Southeastern Massachusetts University (now UMass Dartmouth) in 1987, Tingle went on to get a master of science degree in the same field from Purdue University in Indiana in 1988. He followed those accomplishments with a distinguished career in the US Navy, culminating in his attaining the rank of captain.
But Tingle’s most significant professional milestone still awaited him. In July 2009, he was picked as a member of the 20th NASA astronaut class. He graduated from astronaut training in 2011. His first mission in space began in mid-December in Kazakhstan, when he launched on a Soyuz spacecraft with two other crew members to the International Space Station, which he will call home for the next few months.
Despite his chronological and geographical distance from Blue Hills, where he studied mechanical drafting under now-retired teachers Paul Dumas and Bill Cahill, Tingle has maintained a strong connection with the school. In 2012, he was the keynote speaker at the Blue Hills graduation. A few years later, in 2016, he asked for a symbolic keepsake from the school to take with him in space on the ISS. Blue Hills Superintendent-Director James P. Quaglia came up with a brilliant idea – a small replica of the ISS created by Blue Hills students in Engineering and bearing the words “Scott Tingle, Class of 1983, Blue Hills Regional Tech” and housed in a beautifully-crafted wooden box made by a Blue Hills Construction student. Tingle loved it, and proudly took it with him on the ISS.
More recently, arrangements were made for what is called in NASA lingo a “downlink” between Tingle and the school during his mission. The plan was that for a relatively brief window of time, maybe 20 or 25 minutes, Tingle would be able to hear people at Blue Hills; back in Canton, the whole school would be able to see and hear him answering questions formulated by the students.
Members of the Blue Hills staff collaborated for months on the preparations for this momentous, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Finally, on a sparkling Tuesday morning, the entire student body, more than 800 strong, joined by a host of dignitaries, among them Senator Mike Rush, Senator Walter Timilty, Mr. Kevin Farr, who is the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators, Blue Hills Regional District School Committee members Mr. Aidan G. Maguire, Jr. of Canton, Mr. Thomas R. Polito, Jr. of Dedham and Mr. Charles W. Flahive of Westwood, along with Tingle’s beaming mother, Sheila, and others waited expectantly in the school’s cafeteria and gym for the event to begin.
Suddenly, Tingle appeared on a jumbo screen in the cafeteria and on three 70-inch monitors in the gym. For the nearly a half-hour, he expertly fielded questions written by the students and read to him by Principal Rossetti. The students watched in rapt, respectful attention, utter silence enveloping them as they witnessed one of their predecessors, someone who sat in the very same classrooms they now sit in, describing his illustrious career and remarkable experiences in space.
After paying a heartfelt tribute to Blue Hills for the valuable academic and technical education he received there more than a generation ago, Tingle talked with laudable poise about a slew of topics ranging from the esoteric (the experiments he is doing) to the mundane (the trickiness of shaving his face in an environment without gravity).
“Picture yourself flying,” Tingle mused aloud in wonderment to the audience. “Then you grow up and realize you really can fly.”
He said he gets to see 16 amazingly beautiful sunrises every day as the ISS makes its way through space. The cuisine up there is pretty good, too, he mentioned, consisting of familiar delicacies like lasagna, beef stroganoff and steak. He and his crewmates manage to stay in shape within the tight confines of the ISS by working out regularly. (One of the objectives of the mission is to study the effect of long-term space travel, particularly the absence of gravity, on the human body.)
Tingle surmises that there is possibly life out there in the universe, even if it doesn’t consist of walking, talking beings like us. As for an ambitious future mission to Mars, he said, “I do believe it’s realistic that we might be going to Mars someday. It’s very do-able but it’s going to take some time.” Pointing out that it would probably require nine to 12 months to complete the arduous trip to Mars and the same lengthy amount of time to return to Earth, Tingle said, “It would be a large, large step for mankind,” a sentiment reminiscent of the words spoken by astronaut Neil Armstrong in 1969 when he first trod on the Moon. With characteristic adventurousness, Tingle added, “I would do it in a heartbeat.”
Acknowledging that “there were challenges and barriers” along the way to his present position with NASA that took “patience and persistence” on his part to overcome, Tingle said he isn’t sure if he has achieved his ultimate goal yet. He still wants to focus on ensuring his family’s happiness while inspiring others to reach for their own dreams, even if they seem frustratingly elusive.
Before the event concluded, a special surprise was in store of Tingle’s mother, Sheila – an honorary citation from the Massachusetts Senate congratulating Scott for serving the nation with such dedication and zeal. It was presented to her by Senator Timilty and Senator Rush.
Tingle then ended the session to a warm response from the Blue Hills students and guests, then he spoke a few words of gratitude to the school, plus he gave an exhortation: “Thank you for inspiring me. Dream big!”