Jamestown native to speak about experiences as astronaut

Rick Hieb will discuss those experiences at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, at The Arts Center.

Rick Hieb 1.jpg
Three astronauts hold onto a satellite during one of the missions that Rick Hieb was involved in.
Contributed / NASA
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JAMESTOWN — It might not have been the path he would have designed, but a Jamestown native said he has enjoyed every part of his journey to become an astronaut who logged more than 750 hours in space.

Rick Hieb will be at The Arts Center at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, to speak about his experiences as an astronaut. Hieb will show a video, explain what’s happening, talk about launch and landing experiences, and what it’s like to live and work in space.

“What I tried to do with the video is capture the whole thing – the launch experience, the landing experience, working in space, sleeping, eating, all of those things — because that’s what people really want to know about,” he said. “In the end, they want to know the human experience.”

He said Dave McDowell and Bruce Berg are the two individuals who helped make this event happen at The Arts Center.

The thought of being an astronaut had ended for Hieb when he got eyeglasses as a young child in elementary school.


“In those days to be an astronaut you had to be a pilot, and to be a pilot you had to have 20/20 vision,” Heib said. “ … So, I really didn’t think about it anymore. I thought about it, but I didn’t think about it as an opportunity.”

At that time, he said he was influenced by what was happening with the space program in the U.S. He said the Ranger series of spacecraft was crash landing onto the moon and that was followed by the Surveyor series of soft landers on the moon and human space flights.

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Rick Hieb will speak about his experiences as an astronaut Thursday, Nov. 17, at The Arts Center in Jamestown.
Contributed / NASA

Growing up in North Dakota, he said it didn’t seem realistic that he could get a job with NASA. Hieb said he enjoyed and excelled at physics, math and science and eventually graduated with a math and physics degree from Northwest Nazarene College – now Northwest Nazarene University – in Idaho before attending graduate school at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

After his summer internship at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, he started working in mission operations for NASA.

“I was there for the first shuttle launch (in 1981),” he said.

After changes to the eye requirement, Hieb applied for the 1984 selection for astronauts but was not selected until 1985.

Hieb completed three missions and logged more than 750 hours in space, which is about 30 days. He said his first two missions were each about a week long and his last was about two weeks.

Hieb has also done 17 hours in spacewalks. He was on the 1992 Endeavour flight, a satellite rescue mission involving a number of high-profile spacewalks.


“We spent the first two days doing it the way we intended to do it, which did not work and changed the plan, at least plan B, if not C or D to the third time out,” he said. “The new idea was to send three of us out.”

The last spacewalk of that mission was the first and only three-person spacewalk when Hieb and his colleagues captured a 9,000-pound satellite in their spacesuit-gloved hands. The astronauts attached a satellite to a booster rocket and released it, sending it safely on its way to the originally intended orbit.

“That mission got a lot of attention, and since it worked, it was awesome,” he said. “At the time we were pretty discouraged after the second day of spacewalks when we didn’t get the satellite.”

The three-person spacewalk was the longest ever for more than 10 years at just under 8 1/2 hours, Hieb said.

“I will talk about that more on Thursday,” he said. “If people ask more questions about it, I will tell them about how my spacesuit gave me some warning messages and got my attention.”

In 1995, Hieb left NASA to enter the private industry where he spent 20 years as an aerospace executive. He managed a wide array of activities and was involved in nearly every aspect of space flight and a number of other endeavors with a workforce distributed from Alaska to Antarctica.

Hieb said looking at Earth from space was far more interesting than the stars. He said the astronauts would orbit around earth every hour and a half.

“It’s so much more fun whether you are looking at lightning storms as they propagate along over a whole weather front or you are looking at cities that are lit up at night,” he said. “Whatever that’s going on with the Earth is so much more interesting that if you have a few minutes to look at something, that’s what you are going to be looking at.”


Other fun things in space include taking photos of interesting things and floating.

“Floating is just as good as you think it would be,” Hieb said. “It’s fun. Everything in your hand is a toy whether it’s your tools or your food or your pen, your notebook or whatever. You just can’t help yourself. You spin it one way or the other to watch it just float and spin in front of you.”

At the culmination of his career at Lockheed Martin, he managed over $1 billion in annual sales, with a broad portfolio of contracts and customer relationships, including NASA, National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Transportation Security Administration among others.

He was responsible for software for fingerprint identification for the FBI, training for TSA agents, (including extremely rapid response to emerging threats), new software tools and information technology hardware to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare to meet the needs of the Affordable Care Act, and many other contracts.

He was a scholar-in-residence instructor at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

“I’m still on staff but I’m really on a strictly voluntary basis,” he said. “I help out with a couple of classes. I do some guest lectures.”

He said it is important to help develop the next generation of engineering talent in the U.S.

“Particularly with my generation going into retirement, the backfill of engineers is extremely underpopulated in the U.S.,” he said. “The U.S. is going to have a significant issue in terms of a competitive disadvantage compared to some of the other countries of the world that have more people and are much more focused on engineering.”

Hieb said he has an interest in helping students become more successful after graduation since he has experience working in the engineering industry.

“I just felt it would be helpful if I could share with students that are particularly at the graduate student level, help them be better prepared to be able to enter the workforce and be productive and that’s for their sake and the companies hiring them,” he said.

If you go

What: “Astronaut Talk” with Rick Hieb

When: 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17

Where: The Arts Center, 115 2nd St. SW, Jamestown

Admission: $5 per person; tickets available only at the door

Masaki Ova joined The Jamestown Sun in August 2021 as a reporter. He grew up on a farm near Pingree, N.D. He majored in communications at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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