Michael Fossum

Michael Fossum: From Boy Scout to Spacewalker

Michael Fossum’s journey from Scout to NASA astronaut exemplifies the profound impact that the values and experiences of Scouting can have on personal and professional development. Born in 1957 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and raised in McAllen, Texas, Fossum’s Boy Scout experience played a crucial role in shaping his dreams and ambitions.

Achieving the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest in Boy Scouting, Fossum demonstrated early on his commitment to leadership, perseverance, and community service. These traits would become the bedrock of his future engineering and space exploration career. The skills and values instilled through his scouting experiences—such as teamwork, problem-solving, and a strong ethical compass—were integral to his success.

Fossum pursued an education in mechanical engineering, receiving his bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University, followed by master’s degrees in systems engineering and physical science. His academic and professional paths led him to a distinguished career in the United States Air Force, where he served as a flight test engineer.

Joining NASA as an engineer in the Shuttle Program in 1993, Fossum’s determination and expertise propelled him into the astronaut corps by 1998. Over his career with NASA, he flew on three Space Shuttle missions and participated in multiple spacewalks. His first spaceflight was on STS-121 in 2006, a mission crucial for testing safety improvements and resupplying the International Space Station (ISS).

Perhaps one of the most Scout-like aspects of his NASA career involved his role during these space missions, where he demonstrated bravery and ingenuity, particularly during his spacewalks. These extravehicular activities required meticulous planning, teamwork, and problem-solving skills—qualities that harken back to his days as a Scout.

In addition to his space missions, Fossum also served as the commander of the International Space Station during Expedition 29, where he oversaw operations and experiments that contributed to our understanding of life in space. His leadership during this mission echoed the principles he learned in Boy Scouts, emphasizing collaboration, leadership, and international cooperation.

Michael Fossum retired from NASA in 2017, leaving behind a legacy of contributions to space exploration and aeronautics. His story from Scout to astronaut is a powerful testament to how Scouting can inspire and prepare young individuals for extraordinary achievements. Today, he continues to be involved in education and Scouting, inspiring the next generation to reach for the stars, much like he did. His life stands as a beacon, demonstrating that the values learned in Scouting can indeed launch ambitious dreams into orbit.

In 2024, Fossum was the guest speaker at the Americanism Breakfast at the BSA National Annual Meeting. His speech is worth a watch—it shows how Scouting goes beyond our world. You can check out the video on Vimeo here: https://vimeo.com/945964593.