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LT COL Duane Carey: Astronaut/ Trainhopper/ Biker

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Have any of you guys ever heard of the U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, test pilot and astronaut that started out as a trainhopper and tramp?


LT COL Duane "Digger" Carey, now part of the NASA astronaut team, barely graduated from St. Paul's Highland Park High School, which serves a working class part of town. He grew up in the tough housing projects in St. Paul. After graduation, he spent 2-1/2 years hopping freight trains and living "on the bum." He also criss-crossed the U.S. numerous times on a motorcycle, living life as a biker for several years.


He never intended to go to college. All he cared about was motorcycles and trainhopping. He "slept in strangers' back yards, fixed typewriters and worked as a bartender" to finance his traveling. He decided on military service as a way of getting some direction to his life, and to pay back all the generous Americans he had met who helped him during his transient years. He told Associated Press that he became an officer because "when all the enlisted guys are drinking beer, the officers are drinking Scotch." (This is my kind of astronaut!)


He enrolled in college, and joined ROTC, earning his degree in Engineering in 3-1/2 years, married his motorcycle sweetheart, Cheryl, and became an Air Force fighter pilot, stationed in South Korea, Spain and flying in combat during the 1991 Gulf War. He flew both A-10 Warthogs and F-16's. He got his Master's degree in the 1980's.


He was accepted into test pilot school in 1991, and applied to NASA in 1994. He was accepted in 1995 (the interview lasted an hour, and the question was "What have you done since high school?" Carey's reply never got beyond his trainhopping days, and he said that he later told his wife, "Baby, if they hire me, they know exactly what they're getting.")


He flew on the repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope on the shuttle Columbia, and later he and Columbia's crew met with President Bush.


He took an American Motorcyclist Association flag into space with him, which he delivered to the AMA headquarters in Ohio.


He says while being an astronaut is a great career, it doesn't compare with riding motorcycles in terms of fun, and he rides several hundred miles every Sunday in the Houston area.


He says the moral of the story is "A slacker can always shift gears, and go from goofing off to lifting off." (Yeah. That line sounds like it was written by NASA's Public Information Office.)


He retires from the Air Force in November 2004, according to the article.


"Yo, Digger, let's go catch out!" I loved the trainhopper part.

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