By Jamon Smith
When Bob Hines was 6 years old, he witnessed an event that would forever change the trajectory of his life: the launch of NASA’s first space shuttle, the STS-1, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 12, 1981.
As the shuttle cleared the tower propelled by a thick blast of fire, it was at that moment that Hines fell in love with space and began to dream about the stars.
But he didn’t want to be an astronaut. It just didn’t seem like a realistic goal to the prudent young Hines.
“A lot of people talk about always wanting to be an astronaut,” Hines said. “I never thought it was a possibility. It was such a long shot.
“When people asked me ‘what do you want to be,’ I said a pilot.”
Hines did end up becoming a pilot, but thoughts of exploring space never left him. He took small steps towards making himself eligible to become an astronaut, and it paid off.
In August, the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, native reported for duty at the Johnson Space Center in Houston as part of NASA’s 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. He was selected as one of 12 candidates from a pool of 18,300 applicants – the largest number of applicants in the space program’s history.
“Anything is possible. Lesson learned. It still hasn’t really set in yet that I was selected,” said Hines.
“The application process took a year and a half. Each step of the way I kept preparing myself mentally for it to end. It was pretty miraculous to make it all the way until the end,” he said.
The candidates will undergo two years of training at the space center where they will be assigned a variety of missions, including: performing research on the International Space Station, launching from American soil on spacecraft built by commercial companies, and departing for deep space missions on NASA’s new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket, according to NASA.
“These are 12 men and women whose personal excellence and whose personal courage will carry our nation to even greater heights of discovery and who I know will inspire our children and our grandchildren every bit as much as your forebears have done so in this storied American program,” said U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in a NASA news release.
Upon completing the intense two-year training program, Hines and the other candidates will officially be assignable astronauts and ready for technical duties within the astronaut office.
Flying Through the Sky
Growing up in an Army family, Hines spent a lot of time around airplanes, which inspired him to become a pilot. His grandmother bought him flying lessons for his birthdays as a kid, and he eventually joined the U.S. Air Force and Air Force Reserves where he served for 18 years.
In the Air Force, Hines became an instructor pilot, and, following his selection to the Air Force Test Pilot School in 2007, he served as an experimental test pilot. During the last five years, he’s served as a research/test pilot at the Johnson Space Center.
Hines has accumulated more than 3,500 hours of flight time in 41 different types of aircraft and has flown 76 combat missions in support of contingency operations around the world, according to NASA.
As he grew older, Hines wanted to not just fly aircrafts but also learn how they worked, so he got into engineering. In 2010, he earned a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from The University of Alabama.
“I needed a program that was flexible enough to handle the military lifestyle and to go with me wherever I moved. The distance learning at UA was the best fit for me, and the reputation of the engineering program there really appealed to me. Several test pilots recommended it to me,” said Hines.
“My time at Alabama was really important in laying down the foundation of what I needed as a test pilot and my astronaut career here as well,” Hines said. “Dr. Charles Karr was my first professor there. He helped me get plugged in to the college of engineering and set me on the right track.”
John Baker, head of UA’s department of aerospace engineering and mechanics, said Hines is the second astronaut to graduate with a master’s degree from the department. The first was Col. James Kelly, who graduated in 1996.
“We are honored that one of our graduates has been selected by NASA to be part of the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class,” Baker said. “This must truly be an exciting time for a man who, having already served his country as a pilot in the USAF, will now serve as a role model for all those who dream of exploring space.
“I believe I speak for all of us here at UA when I wish him the very best of luck.”
In addition to attaining his master’s degree from UA, Hines earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Boston University and a master’s degree in flight test engineering from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.