UMD alum, astronaut Ricky Arnold speaks on journey to NASA

Astronaut Ricky Arnold gives a presentation to students and faculty at the University of Maryland on Thursday, May 2, 2019. (Isaiah Smith/The Black Explosion)

Astronaut Ricky Arnold gives a presentation to students and faculty at the University of Maryland on Thursday, May 2, 2019. (Isaiah Smith/The Black Explosion)

For Ricky Arnold, working for NASA and eventually traveling to space did not always seem like a goal.

Arnold said space interested him as a kid, and he developed a strong passion for science throughout high school and college. However, he did not get accepted to NASA until 2004.

“It wasn’t until I had my one-year-old and three-year-old daughters that I started looking online at different space programs,” Arnold said Thursday as he spoke to students and faculty at the Cambridge Community Center.

Arnold doubted he would get accepted to any program, as he was getting older and did not have a background working at space stations, but he eventually found a link to a job opening at NASA.

“I applied fully expecting a nice rejection letter to hang in my office, but the process played out and a year later my family and I are moving to Houston,” Arnold said.

He attended Frostburg State University at 17, and graduated in 1985 with a Bachelor of Science in accounting. In 1992, he got his Master of Science at the University of Maryland in marine, estuarine, and environmental sciences.

Another passion of Arnold’s is teaching. He completed his teaching certification program at Frostburg in 1988 and got the chance to teach at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Throughout his career as an educator, Arnold has taught at numerous middle and high schools across the world, including in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

Arnold first traveled to space in 2009, and again in 2018. During his latter trip, he launched on the spacecraft, Soyuz MS-08, in March, and returned to Earth in October.

Arnold and his crewmates performed various projects in space, including installing new hardware and high-definition cameras and delivering the final set of solar arrays to the International Space Station. Solar arrays are a group of panels used to collect solar energyand convert it into electricity.

While traveling to space may seem like an amazing experience to some, the rare opportunity still presented challenges to Arnold and his crewmates.

“The hardest part of our missions was the separation from family,” Arnold said. “Talking to them over Skype and being able to share some of my experiences with them was the most important part of the day for me.”

Matthew Bernstein, an aerospace engineering major, attended the event and said his family history inspired him to come hear Arnold speak.

“I had a couple family members work for NASA so to be able to listen to an astronaut speak and give insight is going to help push me in the right direction and help me figure out what I want to do,” Bernstein said.

Toward the end of his presentation, Arnold told the audience that while traveling to space was great, being able to come back to UMD’s campus and share his story with students and faculty is just as special.

He left the crowd with one last piece of advice for those who are not sure about what they want to do with their life: Always be willing to go out of your comfort zone.

“Sometimes you have to believe the things that you want to do are bigger than you,” Arnold said. “Some things are worth the risk in the end.”