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Davis Journal

Former astronaut’s mission is helping kids soar to new heights

May 15, 2023 10:12AM ● By Becky Ginos

Carey has devoted his time to inspiring kids to achieve their goals. Courtesy photos

CLEARFIELD—Duane “Digger” Carey went from a kid living in the projects to flying through space as an astronaut. Carey piloted a servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope aboard th e Space Shuttle Columbia in 2001. Prior to becoming an astronaut, Carey flew more than 30 combat missions as a fighter pilot in Desert Storm. Carey’s new mission is to inspire kids to reach for the stars. He will share his experiences on May 18 at the Clearfield Library.

“I’m devoted to inspiring kids to be the best they can be,” he said. “No matter their skills they have no ceiling to achieving.”

Carey said his life hasn’t always been interesting. “I was average in school but I was fortunate to grow up in the United States. I had this crazy idea I could be a fighter pilot but you had to go to college to do that. I had to put my head down and do something. I worked on my own skills.”

He came from humble beginnings, said Carey. “I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota with a single mom. She had an eighth-grade education. At 21 and with three kids, she was thrown to the wolves on her own but we always had good people around us. If you have food on your plate and a roof over your head that’s all kids care about.”

While in the projects Carey lived underneath the international airport. “In 1964 I was playing in the sandbox and I would look at jetliners landing,” he said. “I thought ‘that’s not for me.’ I was aware of my economic circumstances. I thought only rich kids were smart. I realized no one was going to hand me anything.”

After high school, Carey decided to forgo college and spent the next two years vagabonding, hitch hiking and jumping on trains, he said. Then In 1977 he went to the University of Minnesota where he joined the ROTC. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics in 1981 and a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering in 1982.

In 1983, Carey completed Air Force Undergraduate Pilot training and in 1988 deployed to Incirlik Air Base in the Republic of Turkey during Operation Desert Shield and stayed there through the completion of Desert Storm. 

Carey joined NASA in 1996. “I was honored to have a personal connection to the Hubble Space mission and to be a part of that,” he said. “It was built in 1988 and some of the equipment was obsolete. We opened her up and made her 10 times better.” 

It took 11 days to get the job done, said Carey. “There was a point during the mission that I had a spiritual moment up there. My soul was touched with marching orders to go outward and explore.”

That’s what’s happening now, he said. “Kids are ready to carry the torch.”

After the mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, he was assigned to Houston Mission Control as a Capsule Communicator.

“When Columbia crashed (in 2003) I was in the control room,” he said. “I sat in mission control and watched them die. Everybody did. It was terrible. I suffered over 10 years. It was my wife and faith that got me through that.”

Carey retired in 2004 and now he and his wife Cheryl travel all over the United States speaking to kids about not letting anything stop them from achieving their dreams. “There’s not many things that can stop them,” he said. “This is America, there’s no limits to what kids can do. If they want to make this a better place they can do it. We need to get these kids pointed in the right direction and then step out of the way.”

They have the best raw material, said Carey. “It’s our fault if they’re not successful. We should hang our heads if they don’t achieve.”

It takes school leaders and parents to expose kids to the greatest adventure, he said. “We need every single one of them. If we work together we can march into the solar system and the rest of the galaxy.”

Anybody can have a life like this if they put comfort and income down below their top 10, Carey said. “We never made a lot of money – but we wouldn’t trade it.” 

Carey’s presentation will be held May 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Clearfield Branch Library, 1 N. Main St.

He was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics in 1981 and a Master of Science Degree in Aerospace Engineering in 1982.He was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics in 1981 and a Master of Science Degree in Aerospace Engineering in 1982. λ