Kjell Lindgren developed his appreciation for the outdoors during his time as a youth in Scouting. He didn’t know it at the time, but it would eventually turn into a lifelong passion for conservation.
“My love of the outdoors came from Scouting,” says Lindgren, the closing keynote speaker at this week’s National Outdoor Conference at Philmont Scout Ranch. “That was really the first experience I had camping in a tent and going for long hikes and learning about the environment and recognizing the value of the outdoors.”
Then, during NASA Expedition 44/45, Lindgren got his first look at the Earth from the International Space Station. It was the view from 200 miles above the ground that really ignited his desire to promote conservation.
“It was that opportunity to look back at the Earth and recognize the Earth as a finite entity with finite resources,” he says. “It became immediately evident that we need to be good stewards of those resources that they are not infinite.
“I think that was really kind of the profound realization that I had on the space station.”
Growing up in Scouting
Lindgren’s father served in the Air Force in Taiwan, where he met Lindgren’s mother. Lindgren was born in Taiwan, and he remembers being interested in science fiction books and movies at an early age.
He also remembers watching the Space Shuttle Columbia launch as a young child in 1981, and that’s when he knew he wanted to be an astronaut.
“I was in second grade, and our teacher had the television on,” he says. “That’s when it really clicked. This dream of living and working in space — inspired by science fiction books and movies — was actually a reality.”
The family soon moved to England, where Lindgren spent much of his time in Scouting as part of the BSA’s Transatlantic Council, which serves American families who live overseas.
“We did a lot of hikes and always participated in summer camp,” Lindgren says. “It was the community and the friendships and those activities that were all really important to me.
“I’m very grateful for those experiences.”
After graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy, he went to medical school, specializing in emergency medicine. He worked as a flight surgeon at NASA before being selected as an astronaut in 2009.
Raising his kids in Scouting
When it came time to sign his own kids up for Scouting, Lindgren didn’t hesitate. He even volunteered as assistant Scoutmaster and — of course — outdoor ethics advisor.
During his second space mission in 2022, he spoke live from space with Scouts at summer camp and delivered a virtual message to the BSA’s National Outdoor Ethics and Conservation Conference.
His oldest son is an Eagle Scout; his youngest is a Life Scout currently taking the final steps to Eagle.
He and his family live in the Houston area, near Lindgren’s office at Johnson Space Center. Lindgren says the things he learned in Scouting still come in handy to this day.
“I don’t think there’s a part of Scouting that does not contribute to being successful in everyday life,” Lindgren says. “Whatever careers or goals that Scouts — girls and boys — are interested in participating in or pursuing, I think Scouting provides them with the tools to be successful.”
Lindgren says he sees a lot of parallels between his journey to the rank of Eagle and his journey to becoming an astronaut.
“Having the opportunity to serve as an astronaut is not a singular achievement,” he says. “It’s a reflection of all the people that have been part of the journey — coaches, teachers, instructors, family, friends and most of all, my wife and kids. I could not have done this without them.
“I think that getting that rank of Eagle Scout is not a singular effort. It’s a reflection of the incredible investment of family and friends and Scoutmasters along that journey as well.”
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