Story Musgrave has led a storied life. He is the only astronaut to have flown aboard all five of the Space Shuttles - Endeavor, Discovery, Atlantis, Challenger and Columbia, the last two of which had mishaps that destroyed the spacecraft after he had flown in them. Musgrave has also been to space six separate times, just under the record of seven held by Franklin Chang-Diaz and Jerry Ross. In addition to Musgrave’s career as an astronaut, he has worked as a trauma surgeon and currently owns a palm tree farm. Thirty years ago, he made history by helping fix the fragile Hubble Telescope. I thought it would be interesting to talk with Musgrave now, given the important Hubble anniversary later this week. In a one-hour phone interview, he discussed many things space, including the topic of UFOs. Following are edited excerpts from a spirited chat.
Jim Clash: What is your view on the topic of extraterrestrial life in the universe?
Story Musgrave: There are millions if not billions of them out there. We think we are the center of the universe, that the whole universe revolves around Earth. But they are coming up with so many new planets now. There are like 10 to the 29th stars, a number I can hardly wrap my fingers around, and most of them have planets. A planet can be at a place that’s friendly to biological life. Statistics have it that there are billions and billions of planets that have biological life. If they’ve behaved themselves and gotten their acts together, looked after themselves, there are millions of years for these people to have evolved, to have developed a technology that would lead to star travel. They’re outside of their own solar systems, maybe outside of their own galaxies, too. But here on Earth, technology only began probably 300 or 400 years ago, with the Industrial Revolution.
Clash: Have any of these extraterrestrials visited Earth in the form of, say, UFOs?
Musgrave: I look for them, and, dammit, I want that to happen. I send prayers out there for them to come and get me. I try, doggone it. Maybe if they are listening, they will get these messages. First, you have to acknowledge that they’re there. If you turn your back, they’re not going to come. As for UFOs, is that a satellite or an object from somewhere else with a biological being? None of the latter passes my filter. My filter is not that tough, by the way, but it’s tough enough. I’ve been to the coffee pot, the only astronaut who has stayed for over 30 years listening to everyone’s tales, so I’ve got the data. And there’s just not enough evidence in that data. Also, and I’m not a cynic, but why would you come to Earth? There are more promising places. If you look at the number of wars going on, the history of humanity and its relationship to itself, to the only home it’s ever going to have, there’s nothing to learn here, not yet.
Clash: What are you afraid of and how do you handle fear?
Musgrave: I was always incredibly scared of the Shuttle. I helped build it, understood it. It’s a very difficult machine, so difficult to operate. You have to be perfect all of the time. It’s a butterfly bolted on a bullet. I did not like that amount of risk. How did I handle that? I intellectualized it, knowing that I had made the decision ahead of time.
Clash: What was your risk of dying on the Shuttle? Something like 1.5% per flight, right?
Musgrave: Unfortunately it’s worse than that. You add up my six missions, and it was more risk than I wanted to take [9%]. But it was my only way to get to space.