(KMSP) - If the passengers knew who was sitting in the captain's seat on their Sun Country Airlines flight, they might not be in such a hurry to get off the plane.
Curt Brown's idea of relaxing is flying a hundred feet off the ground at speeds approaching 500 miles an hour. Brown is a frequent flyer at the famed air races in Reno, Nevada. Last year, he piloted the Saw Bones air team from Anoka to a very impressive fourth place finish.
Quick history check: John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the earth back in 1962. He returned to space in 1998 at the age of 77 and the commander of that historic shuttle mission was none other than Brown himself. Clearly, Brown has lots to be proud of. He made a record six trips to space in seven years. In 2013, he was inducted into the astronauts hall of fame, joining such legends as Glenn and Neil Armstrong. After spending a total of 57 days, 17 hours and seven minutes in space, he has come to believe we're not alone in the universe.
"I'm sure there's life out there, somewhere. We may not understand it or whatever, there's stuff out there, I’m sure,” Brown said.
He frequently visits schools to talk about space, and encourages students to work hard and dream big.
"If I can change one kid, you never know what that kid's doing to do for the future of humanity."
And for those kids who can't relate to this high achiever, he reminds them he was on academic probation his first semester.
Whether he's flying commercial jets, racing at Reno, or restoring old cars in his garage, he sets a lofty, yet unattainable goal for every task.
"I have to do everything perfect,” he says.
You can Google his name and be amazed by all his accomplishments: Air Force Academy. Top Gun pilot. Electrical engineer. But there's one thing you'd miss.
"It probably wouldn't tell you what a kind heart he is,” his wife, Mary Brown, said.
The steely-eyed missile man is a bit of a softie. At Christmas, he took a group of make-a-wish kids on a trip to see Santa. Nobody had a clue there was a celebrity in the cockpit. The crew is under strict orders on all of his flights to keep a tight lip. His buddies on the race team say he's just a down to earth rocket man. He puts on his space suit one leg at the time like anyone else – just one of the guys, having a beer and watching space movies.
How does someone who's flown millions of miles in space end up being a pilot at for a small airline in Minnesota? He was retired for a few years and really missed flying. He sent in his resume to Sun Country but never heard back. So he called to make sure they got it. Initially, they said they don’t hire astronauts, but eventually found a spot for him.
Brown’s latest mission is to get a "challenger center" to open in the Twin Cities to offer kids opportunities to learn more about science, math and space exploration. Head to challenger.org to learn more.