early interest in science fiction
put Purdue grad on the road to space travel
(April 2001) Madison, In For
some of todays NASA astronauts, the dream began
as a child, playing with toy space ships or visiting space
museums. For others, it was popular TV shows and movies
Star Trek, Lost in Space
and 2001 A Space Odyssey.
But for Janice Voss, it all started with
science fiction books. Still an avid reader of both fiction
and nonfiction, the Indiana native credits such books
as the seed that over a lifetime grew into a passion for
Following several years of hard work in school, Voss
dream became a reality when in 1990 she was among a chosen
few selected by NASA to become an astronaut. Since then,
the Purdue University graduate has flown aboard five Space
Shuttle missions, logging more than 49 days in space and
traveling 18.8 million miles in 779 Earth orbits. On each
mission, Voss takes along a book to read as one of her
few personal items allowed on board.
This month, Voss will travel from her Houston home to
Madison, Ind., to appear as the celebrity guest at the
inaugural Regional Business Expo, set for April 27 at
the Venture Out Business Center. Voss will address Expo
exhibitors at a morning breakfast, then meet with school
children and the public in the afternoon. The event is
sponsored by the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce, the
Small Business Development Center in conjunction with
the Jefferson County Collaborative Marketing Project.
I always look forward to speaking to groups and
usually tailor each appearance to the audience, whether
its a speech or panel discussion or something else,
said Voss, 44, during a February telephone interview from
the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
For school groups, I talk about working hard and
being a good team player, because thats what you
have to do as an astronaut. If its adults, much
of what I talk about deals with the benefits of space
exploration and to make the case that our tax dollars
are being spent wisely.
Part of her decision to come to Madison stems from the
fact her parents live on a farm in nearby Dupont, Ind.,
in northern Jefferson County. Voss visits the family farm
a few times each year, usually on holidays and special
family occasions. But the rest of her time is spent in
Houston, where one of her three sisters also lives.
When not preparing for an upcoming space flight, Voss
spends most of her time in training and makes as many
as 25 public appearances a year on behalf of NASA. She
says she enjoys her speaking roles because it gives her
an opportunity to discuss what she loves most space.
She also uses such opportunities to try and impress upon
young people the need for education and to work hard in
school, no matter what career they pursue.
The second of James and Louise Voss four daughters,
Janice was born in South Bend, Ind., but spent little
time there. The family soon moved to Rockford, Ill., and
later, when Janice was in the seventh grade, on to Massachusetts,
where she finished high school.
James Voss, a Purdue University engineer with a doctorate
degree in nuclear physics, had his own successful career
working for various corporations and is still an active
consultant. While in South Bend, he helped develop the
U.S. Navys guided missile program.
Louise Voss, a Purdue graduate, holds a masters
degree in home economics from the University of Connecticut
and is a retired high school teacher. After retirement,
Louise became active in local politics and served two
terms on the Wilbraham, Mass., Board of Selectmen, essentially
a town council. In fact, she became the first woman to
be elected to that board. It was her familys farm
in Dupont that drew the Vosses there a decade ago, according
to her brother, Elbert Hinds of Dupont.
Jim was always good in math, and they used to play
math games at the dinner table when the girls were young,
Hinds said. Janice did so well in school that she
skipped a grade. But her father didnt try to influence
any of his children and let them go their own way.
Janice says it was more her own interest in science fiction
that influenced her decision to pursue a career with NASA.
She said her father supported her decision but did not
push her toward math or science.
James Voss said that his career in the sciences no doubt
had some influence on his daughters, but that Janice,
more than the others, took an early interest in science
and pursued it fully as a career.
It was all her own nature, he said. She
did things on her own at an early age. Shes always
been aggressive about her future. Shes always had
her goal in mind, and math came naturally to her.
Voss oldest daughter, Vicky Fransham, 46, became
a computer programmer and now resides in Houston; the
third daughter, Linda Voss, 43, became a technical writer
and lives in Alexandria, Va.; and the youngest, Karen
Voss, 41, until recently played Mickey Mouse at Walt Disney
World in Orlando and still works there and lives in Orlando.
After high school, Janice returned to Indiana and in 1975
earned a bachelors degree in engineering science
at Purdue. She followed that with a masters degree
in electrical engineering and a doctorate in aeronautics/astronautics
in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She called
earning a PhD. a real struggle for me.
Voss big break came when she was selected by NASA
to participate as a student co-op at the Johnson Space
Center from 1973-75. She worked on computer simulations
in the Engineering and Development Directorate. In 1977,
she returned to Houston to work for a year as a crew trainer,
teaching entry guidance and navigation. She completed
her doctorate in 1987 and accepted a job with Orbital
Selected by NASA in January 1990, Voss became an astronaut
in July 1991. She is qualified for flight assignment as
a mission specialist. Her technical assignments have included
working Spacelab/Spacehab and robotics issues.
Not surprisingly, Voss is an adamant supporter of space
exploration and the multi-national Freedom Space Station
now being constructed in orbit. She is not currently scheduled
for a future flight and spends her days in meetings, simulator
training sessions, working out and studying. NASA astronauts
typically have about two years between flights. In describing
her work day, Voss said, Every day is different.
Voss is single and says her busy schedule and long working
days allow her little time for socializing or recreation,
although she lists reading science fiction, dancing, volleyball
and flying among her hobbies. Especially in the
three months prior to a launch, you have very little personal
time, she said.
Her closest friends, she says, are those with whom she
schooled with at Purdue and now work with her at NASA.
Her parents have witnessed every space launch and landing
their daughter has taken. Many family members also attend
and take part in NASA family receptions.
Weve met many wonderful people, including
many other astronauts, through Janices career at
NASA, said James Voss, 75. Weve seen
the White Room, where the astronauts get ready to go,
and weve been right up to the door of the Shuttle
sitting on the launch pad.
Hinds says the family has learned to cope with the dangers
of their daughters space travel. Its
something we understand, and every flight makes us nervous,
said Hinds, a retired U.S. Civil Service employee who
has attended all but one of his nieces Shuttle launches
and witnessed one landing.
Louise Voss, 72, said her daughters career has
expanded our lives because of our experiences with NASA.
She added that there is some nervousness on launch day.
Were most anxious to see it take off, but
the best day is when she lands.
The pay for an astronaut isnt great at the beginning,
Voss said, but it doesnt seem to bother her. Most
people dont care about the money, its the
chance to go into space that drives them.
For information about the Regional
Business Expo in Madison, Ind., on April 27, call (812)