For more than two decades, Don Lind was "Utah's astronaut," a public figurewith the kind of name recognition in his home state that politicians lust after.
When Lind left the space program a little over three years ago, he took a job with a lower profile. He's now a professor of physics at Utah State University.He's still a popular speaker in regular demand for public appearances. And he admits "life hasn't slowed down as much as I'd hoped it would," since he left NASA. But Lind loves teaching.
"Being a part of the space program was very satisfying," Lind said. "But I get more professional satisfaction from teaching than from anything I've ever done."
In fact, Lind had always planned on an academic career.
"After I got my doctorate, my career master plan was to go into research for 10 years and then teach," he said.
But Lind took a slight detour from that planned career path when he joined the space program and stayed for 22 years.
"I felt like a kid who had been sent to the store to buy eggs but went off chasing fire engines instead," he said. Lind said he got interested in space flight "by reading Buck Rogers (comics) in the Deseret News back in the '30s." As a boy he played typical childhood games of space man, cowboys and Indians and cops and robbers.
But years later the boy who had played space man became one. Lind's first assignment at NASA was to develop and test hardware to be used on the lunar surface by the first astronauts to land on the moon. Lind recalls that first moon landing as high adventure.
"I was as involved with that mission as a guy could be without actually being on the moon," he said. "That was exciting, not just for us, but for the whole country. I'd like to see us get back there. Some of the things we're doing in space now are dull compared to that."
The highlight of Lind's time in the space program came years after the moon landing, on April 29, 1985, when he blasted off as a crew member on a space shuttle flight. That mission, known as 51 Bravo or Skylab 3, capped his 22 years at NASA.
"It was decision point for me, a logical end," he said of the flight. "After our debriefing, which takes about three months, I looked around to see if I was employable. I resigned from the space program in November 1985. Sixty days later the Challenger blew up. That made me think my decision was well-timed."
The effective date of Lind's resignation made him the first astronaut to leave NASA after the Challenger disaster.
For the past three years he's been teaching general physics courses for pre-med students and those with science majors other than physics. Lind is looking forward to teaching astronomy and astrophysics courses next year.
As an educator, the former astronaut has some definite ideas about science education at the elementary and secondary levels.
"Let me say first that there are some very dedicated teachers out there, but generally our elementary education in math and science isn't being done very well," he said. "We tell our kids math and science are hard, and they believe us. We should be telling them science is exciting stuff, because it is."
Lind feels more math and science courses should be required of prospective teachers so they'll be better trained to teach those classes. He also believes more creative approaches to teaching science are needed to make the courses fun for students. And more money to fund science education is also needed, he said.
For kids who want to grow up to be astronauts, Lind offers this advice. "Do well in school, particularly in math and science. Don't steal hubcaps or do anything to get yourself a police record. Don't ruin your body with drugs, alcohol or tobacco. And study hard in high school.
"When I went to NASA, I expected them to look at my college transcripts, but they looked at my high school report card."