CRAWFORDSVILLE — Astronaut and physicist Dr. Joe Allen has been around long enough to know that there’s more to life than knowing stuff.
“When you get into your 80s like me, you realize, it's not what you know, it's not who you know, it's who knows you,” Allen said. “And everybody in Crawfordsville knows me.”
It’s not a stretch to say Allen is a household name in the Montgomery County community he calls home. He was born and raised here and after he retired from NASA, it was the only place he wanted to be.
“They said, ‘Dr. Allen, now that you've retired, we have a nice place for you here in Washington, DC.’ And I said, Are you out of your gourd? I'm going back home to Crawfordsville.”
And that’s coming from someone who's literally spent time out of this world.
In 1959, Allen received a bachelor of arts degree in math-physics from DePauw University. He went on to earn degrees in a master of science degree and doctor of philosophy degree in physics from Yale University. And in 1967, NASA selected Allen as a scientist-astronaut.
Allen became a Capsule Communicator, or CAPCOM, communicating with astronauts in space.
“It was quite good training for me,” Allen said.
That training prepared him for one of his most important missions 15 years later as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia.
“Finally, I got a chance to fly STS-5, which was the first operational mission of the spaceship.”
That was over 40 years ago now. Indiana was abuzz with the news that one of its own would be traveling to space.
WRTV journalists Howard Caldwell and Ken Nelson filed several reports ahead of the historic flight.
Caldwell visited Allen’s parents in Frankfort Indiana and even traveled to Houston to visit with Allen just days before his mission.
About 100 people from Crawfordsville gathered at the Journal Review for a watch party.
While the launch was picture perfect, the mission itself wasn’t a total success.
“I was to do a spacewalk, but sadly, my spacesuit failed,” Allen said. “I was very, very disappointed.”
But Allen would be given a second chance 2 years later when he was tasked with another mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.
“I went back and I did two spacewalks untethered,” Allen recalled. “I had a backpack called an MMU (Manned Maneuvering Unit) and I could just fly out a long way away and then come back.”
Allen and his crew retrieved two errant satellites and brought them back to the Space Shuttle. Allen says it's the only time that’s ever been done.
Allen also made history of his own.
“I'm the last individual to do an untethered spacewalk out away from the Space Shuttle.”
Four decades after his first space flight, Allen can recall stories from the Space Shuttle like they were yesterday. He says he’s delighted to see the role private enterprise is playing in space exploration.
“When we go back to the moon again, they're going to say, ‘Boy, this was difficult to do, how in the world did those old guys do it?’”
And through all of Allen’s space success, it’s his ties to Crawfordsville that keep him grounded. Above his bed is a picture of himself as a toddler.
“That’s my first space helmet,” Allen said. “It’s a pot from my mom’s kitchen.”
From humble beginnings to outer space, Joe Allen is right at home in Crawfordsville.
“This is where I love to be.”