Growing up in Boston, Scott Tingle dreamed so big the Earth couldn't contain his imagination.
The former Navy pilot envisioned a career in orbit, walking effortlessly in space and soaring high in the cosmos — a dream that became real nearly three years ago when Tingle spent 168 days on the International Space Station.
Now back on solid ground, Tingle spent an hour Monday encouraging a group of Freeport High School students studying engineering and science to pursue their goals.
"There are a bazillion reasons why people are going to tell you that you can't be an astronaut," Tingle told the students during a webinar held online because of the pandemic. " … There are a million reasons to say 'never mind. I don't want to be an astronaut.' You have to decide you want to be an astronaut and never give up and keep pushing forward."
Monday was Tingle's second visit with Freeport high students. He spoke with them in March 2018 while aboard the space station.
Tingle on Monday described his education, training and career as a fighter pilot in the Navy. But Tingle's main focus was his experiences while spending nearly six months in space. He described conducting combustion research, growing lettuce in the station and venturing outside on spacewalks.
"One of best things about being in orbit is the view, and seeing the Earth from such a bird's-eye point of view was absolutely amazing," said Tingle, who would witness 14 to 18 sunrises per day depending on the orbit.
But Tingle said the experience is also daunting and all-consuming.
"You need to be able to firefight because when you have a fire you can't call 911," he said. "It's just you. When one of the systems isn't working right you need to be able to pull that system apart, replace that broken part or fix it and put it back together."
Last year, the Freeport School District was awarded a NASA/New York Space grant — the only district on Long Island to secure that grant.
As part of the U.S. Department of Education Space Mission Challenge, a small contingent of Freeport students are developing a CubeSat prototype, a nanosatellite in the form of a 10-centimeter cube. If NASA selects Freeport’s application to launch its CubeSat into space, it will provide data on how satellites and spacecrafts interact with the Earth's upper orbit.
If successful "we will be able to introduce students to aerospace technology and strengthen careers in technical education programs," said Freeport junior Mia Sorrentino.
Tingle encouraged students to continue their education in science, math and engineering but to also gain "operational experiences" such as scuba diving, mountain climbing or racing cars.
"We connect engineering to operations as astronauts," he said. "So we need to work in the technical fields and understand everything going on and then use it. And the operational experience you bring to the organization can help."