Andrew Feustel is currently onboard the International Space Station (ISS), floating more than 250 miles above our planet. But that didn’t stop the NASA astronaut from getting an honorary Doctor of Science degree from his alma mater, Purdue University.
The Indiana university decided to award Feustel the prestigious accolade during its spring commencement ceremonies, held on Friday (May 11) at the West Lafayette campus.
While the faculty, graduates, and Feustel’s wife, Indira, celebrated the occasion in the university’s Elliott Hall of Music theater, the NASA astronaut tuned in from space to receive his honorary doctorate and even hosted his own zero-gravity hooding ceremony onboard the ISS.
Feustel was able to attend the Purdue ceremony via a live link to the space station and took the opportunity to address his fellow graduates and wish them luck in their endeavors, CNN reports.
“You have earned your right to walk the stage and I wish you all the chance to fly among the stars, professionally, and for some of you, personally.”
This last reference pointed to the university’s impressive number of former graduates that went on to become astronauts. Known as the “Cradle of Astronauts,” Purdue has seen 24 of its former students pursue a career in space, the university notes in a news release detailing Friday’s festivities.
One of the most famous astronauts to graduate from Purdue was Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. In addition, hundreds of other NASA employees and space industry professionals have been schooled at the Indiana university.
Speaking at the ceremony, Purdue President Mitch Daniels commended Feustel for his many achievements, which include seven spacewalks and 80 days spent in orbit.
“Boilermakers are known for making Giant Leaps for the benefit of humankind, from Neil Armstrong’s historic first step on the moon to today’s plant scientists helping feed the world’s growing population,” Daniels said.
“Drew Feustel’s courage on behalf of our nation as he works to make the next Giant Leap in space science and exploration gives us all much to be proud of,” he added.
In turn, the NASA astronaut said that receiving his doctor of science degree was “a rare privilege” and commented on the university’s role as “an important, integral part” in his successes. Feustel paid tribute to his alma mater and said that Purdue set him “on a path to the stars.”
Since the astronaut couldn’t be physically present in the theater for the traditional hooding ceremony — he’s not due back on Earth until October, notes the university — the crew of Expedition 55-56 had to improvise in order to honor their colleague properly.
The public gathered in Purdue’s Elliott Hall of Music watched NASA astronaut Scott Tingle — also a Purdue alumnus — act in lieu of an academic dean and place the hood on Feustel’s shoulders.
Feustel’s honorary doctoral degree comes after the bachelor’s degree in solid earth sciences that the NASA astronaut earned from Purdue in 1989, followed by a master’s degree in geophysics in 1991.