Thomas Henry Marshburn '82
In Thomas Henry Marshburn's Davidson application essay, he wrote, "Upon the purchase of a telescope last fall, a wonder and interest I have always had in the universe has been greatly enhanced."
Since graduating from the college with a physics degree, Tom has had an opportunity to enhance that wonder and interest even further, in a way that most people can only imagine. As Davidson's only astronaut (so far), Tom spent the last 16 days of July 2009 in space, logging some 6.5 million miles on the Space Shuttle Endeavour. This was a dream come true for the Statesville native, who spent his youth building model airplanes and launching water-propelled rockets in his back yard. But for Tom, his work isn't just about the thrill of space exploration; it's also an opportunity to build bridges between nations and to talk about the value of science and education.
Those who were in class with Tom remember his keen intelligence: after Davidson, he went on to earn three graduate degrees, and he's one of five children in his family to become a doctor. And recall, too, his love of adventure and his sense of derring-do; a mountain climber and scuba diver, he spent the summer of 1980 hiking all the way from Canada to Mexico. He began his career as an emergency room physician, and started working for NASA in 1994. After several years as a flight surgeon, he was selected for NASA's astronaut program.
During Tom's first mission, in 2009, he took three spacewalks. A few months later-in an on-campus presentation that amazed, moved and inspired a full house in Davidson's Duke Family Performance Hall -Tom talked about the new perspective his travels had given him. He spoke first about the global perspective: opening the Space Shuttle door and watching the earth spin by underneath. And he talked, too, about the human perspective: opening the Shuttle door after returning, and standing up-legs wobbly from weeks of no gravity-to see his wife and daughter waiting for him with hugs.
Tom has said that 95 percent of being an astronaut is about "supporting space flight and whoever is up there at the time." And to that end, he has been an outstanding ambassador for the space program-and for Davidson-speaking to audiences at home and abroad, addressing the U.S. Congress and elementary schoolchildren. In every talk, and in every interview, he emphasizes the importance of education and the value of a college degree.
Although the Space Shuttle program has ended, Tom will return to his home away from home in 2013; now assigned to the Expedition 35 crew as a flight engineer, he is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station aboard Soyuz in March 2013.
For your keen and ongoing sense of intellectual curiosity, your tenacity in achieving unimaginable goals, your generosity in and commitment to sharing your unique perspectives with the Davidson family and the world beyond, and for being our very own Rocket Man, the Davidson College Alumni Association honors you, Tom Marshburn, with the Distinguished Alumnus Award on the occasion of your 30th Reunion.