There are people who have been into space more often than Kansas-bred astronaut Steve Hawley.
But nobody, he said Friday, has taken more trips to the launch pad with the intent to fly. It took Hawley 15 launch attempts to make his five space shuttle trips; 10 launches were aborted in the final seconds for safety reasons.
"Unfortunately, I've become a legend in the astronaut office," he told Kansas University students during a talk Friday that was part science lecture, part adventure storytelling.
"But there's a saying in my business," Hawley said. "You'd rather be on the ground wishing you were flying than flying and wishing you were on the ground."
Hawley was born in Ottawa, reared in Salina and graduated from KU in 1973 with a bachelor's degree in physics and astronomy. He joined NASA in 1978.
On Friday, he was in Lawrence to speak at a university colloquium sponsored by KU's department of aerospace engineering. But Hawley started his Friday in Lawrence at a career fair at South Junior High School, where young students peppered him with questions about working in space.
"It's real noisy. It shakes a lot," he said of space shuttle launches. "It just jumps off the launch pad."
The shuttle accelerates so quickly during launch, Hawley said, that he feels as if his weight has tripled. That's an uncomfortable sensation especially with all the equipment strapped to him during launch.
"It gets really hard to breathe the last minute or so," he said.
Chris Bohling, an eighth-grader at South, asked Hawley some technical questions. Bohling has attended a "future astronaut camp" at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, and figures he'll be about 30 when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration sends a ship to Mars.
Bohling said he has watched IMAX movies of space shuttle trips featuring Hawley and hopes to follow his fellow Kansan into space.
"I think it would be fun," Bohling said. "It's being out on the frontiers of science."
Shirley Werholtz, a guidance counselor at South, said students were excited by Hawley's appearance there.
"The kids really love it," she said. "They couldn't believe someone like that was going to be here."
During his afternoon lecture at a KU aerospace colloquium, Hawley now the director of flight crew operations at NASA talked about his trips to help put the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory into orbit. He called Hubble "a beautiful telescope."
"I've been blessed in my career as an astronomer," he told KU students. "I've been involved with the most amazing telescopes in space."