January 28, 1997

One big ride for astronaut, one giant leap in pride for WSU

Alumnus Linenger compiles frequent flier miles in a hurry

The blast of pride felt in the School of Medicine was nothing compared with the blast of force felt by alumnus Jerry Linenger, one of the astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis Jan. 12 when it lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island in Florida.

The 1981 WSU medical school graduate, an astronaut since 1992, is on his second mission in space. This time he'll spend 4 1/2 months on the Russian space station Mir. More than 20 friends and well-wishers from the School of Medicine were on-site to see the launch. Among them were Dean Robert Sokol and alumni director Bunny Leitch.

"Watching the liftoff was an awesome and unforgettable experience," Leitch says. "It made us proud of Jerry and proud of our country's space program."

Linenger and his family spent the past year living in Star City, Russia. While there, he learned a new language and worked with the international crew in preparation for their mission.

During his stay on Mir, Linenger is scheduled to take a six-hour spacewalk. His major role, however, is to conduct U.S. life science experiments and to help maintain the station's various systems.

Linenger made his first trip into space in 1994 on the shuttle Discovery. When he returned, he visited WSU and presented the School of Medicine with a banner he carried aboard the shuttle for more than 4.5 million miles. In honor of his many accomplishments, the school honored him with the 1995 Distinguished Alumni Award.

Dedicated to his hometown roots -- he was born and raised in Eastpointe -- Linenger has spent countless hours sharing his experiences with students in schools throughout Michigan. He says he loves to see the familiar mitten shape of the state, which stands out from his view of space.

"There's no more beautiful sight on Earth, in my opinion, than the state of Michigan and the Great Lakes," he says.

Linenger, who celebrated his 42nd birthday recently while in space, now considers both Eastpointe and Coronado, Calif., his hometowns. He graduated from East Detroit High School in 1973 and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in bioscience from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1977.

Linenger then earned his medical degree from WSU's School of Medicine in 1981. He followed that with a Master of Science degree in systems management from the University of Southern California in 1988. The next year he earned both a master's degree in public health and a doctorate in epidemiology from the University of North Carolina.

When asked in a recent Detroit Free Press interview about his various degrees, Linenger said, "I'm just not smart enough, so I kept going to school and going and going until I got it right.

"I don't consider myself a high achiever. I just tried to look at the next hurdle and finish what I was doing whenever I started something. I don't give up ... I work hard."
Although he was anxious to begin working on the Mir, Linenger is equally anxious to get home on time. He is scheduled to return to Earth in May, just a month before his second child is born.

Says his wife Kathryn, an epidemiologist with the space program, "It's going to be like being a single parent for a while, (but) he'll be back."

The Linengers plan to be back in Michigan for an alumni dinner July 26 in Traverse City. The Navy commander will present highlights from the Mir mission and answer questions. For more information about the event call the School of Medicine alumni office at 577-3587.

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