Astronaut encourages southern Colorado kids to go to infinity and beyond


Just two days after NASA landed a Colorado-built probe on Mars, a retired astronaut is touring around Colorado Springs.

Kids at a couple of local schools will get to meet Air Force Lt. Col. Duane “Digger” Carey.  

He’s logged 4,000 hours in more than 35 different aircraft, but he said it hasn’t always been easy. 

“My mom got pregnant with me when she 15 years old,” Carey said. “I used to hang out in the woods and hide because I didn’t want to go to school so bad.”  

He was raised in the projects by a single mom of three kids who had an eighth-grade education. Now he has a master’s degree in aerospace engineering. He went to space on Columbia mission STS-109 to service the Hubble Telescope in 2002. 

“How does a kid like that get to be a test pilot?” Carey asked the group.  

He told students that to be an astronaut, you don’t have to be good at, or love, math. You just have to work hard at it.  

“I think it’s scary because the perception is that it’s hard,” Carey said. “I feel that the reluctance to take harder courses isn’t so much a fear. I think it’s more a lack of awareness of what engineers do, what pilots do, what astronauts do. I think these kids are living in the world if they can’t see it, they can’t be it.”  

He’s hoping to motivate students to be their best selves, preparing the next generation to launch out of this world. 

“Did you all hear that we are going to Mars?,” he said. “You can be part of that. But not just anyone can go to Mars. Mars is going to need cooks, but they’ll want the best. They are going to need artists. They are going to need journalists. But they are going to want the best ones.”  

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” sixth grader Scarlett Vickers said. “I’m not really into all this stuff. Learning about it is kind of making me like it a lot more.”

“If you want to do something, try to find a way to make it happen, because anything is possible,” said Zack Fisher, an eighth grader.  

Thursday, Carey will be presenting at Abrams Elementary School and Legacy Peak Elementary School. He’ll be at Bristol Elementary School and Mesa Ridge High School on Friday.  

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