October 30, 2023

An astronaut and a communication advocate return to their alma mater as Presidential Ambassadors

Husband and wife Andrew and Indira Feustel will help inspire and empower the next generation of Boilermakers 

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Andrew “Drew” Feustel launched himself from the Cradle of Astronauts directly into a life dedicated to the pursuit and promotion of science. His passion has led him from the bottom of the sea to the vastness of space.  

Now Drew and his wife and partner, Indira, a speech-language pathologist, are helping others make those small steps to giant leaps as Purdue graduates and as thoughtful and strategic explorers into new frontiers.  

Additional Information 

President Mung Chiang has named the Feustels Presidential Ambassadors of Purdue University, an appointment that became effective July 1. In this role, they will use their expertise, connections, passions and experiences to help further enrich the Purdue community by actively connecting with students, faculty, alumni and staff.  

“Purdue University, the Cradle of Astronauts, has fostered generations of remarkable graduates,” Chiang said. “Wherever Boilermakers go, whatever projects they touch, they bring Purdue’s trademark attributes of creativity, perseverance, innovation and dedication. I am proud and pleased to welcome Drew and Indira Feustel onboard as Presidential Ambassadors.”

feustel-spaceday Drew Feustel presents at Purdue Space Day 2023. (Purdue University photo) Download image

An astronaut, geophysicist and mechanic from Michigan, Drew flew to space three times, including the mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope and the final flight of space shuttle Endeavour. He also commanded the International Space Station for six and a half months in 2018 and has spent 226 days in space, including 61 hours spacewalking. He was acting chief astronaut at NASA prior to leaving the agency and has a lifelong passion for science, technology, working with his hands and training the next generation. He retired July 31 from NASA after a 23-year career.  

“Purdue University has served as a cornerstone of inspiration for my entire life. One of my greatest role models was my great-uncle Robert Maximilian Feustel, civil engineer, Purdue 1909. After reading about his formidable life — strongly influenced by his time at Purdue — I realized that if I, too, wanted to be exceptional, then I, too, would need to develop my academic journey at Purdue. Following the footsteps of my father (mechanical engineering 64) and uncle (mechanical engineering 66 and 67), and knowing Purdue as the Cradle of Astronauts, I focused to pursue my dreams. This university is where giant leaps were made in the past and where giant leaps will lead us to our future. Indira and I are honored for this prestigious appointment, and we look forward to inspiring many generations of Purdue University students to recognize that the sky is NOT the limit!” 

feustel-honorary During Purdue’s May 11, 2018, commencement ceremony, then-President Mitch Daniels connected via a live downlink with alumni astronauts Scott Tingle, left, and Drew Feustel, who were aboard the International Space Station some 250-plus miles above Earth. Tingle performed the hooding for Feustel as he received his honorary Doctor of Science degree. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood) Download image

He is the only Purdue astronaut to graduate from the College of Science rather than the College of Engineering. He studied in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, earning a bachelor’s degree in solid earth sciences and a master’s degree in geophysics. In 2018, while aboard the space station, Drew received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Purdue and delivered the spring commencement address 

While at Purdue, Drew met Indira, now his spouse. A medical speech-language pathologist and advocate, Indira is passionate about the importance of communication — even and especially in space environments. She has helped survivors of traumatic and acquired brain injuries and other neurological disorders regain the ability to communicate. Born in Nashville, Tennessee, to a Czech mother and East Indian father, Indira spent her childhood learning languages — four by the age of 4, according to her mother. 

“The ability to communicate is very often taken for granted. I truly appreciate that by attending Purdue, I went to one of the top speech-language pathology programs in the country, which led to my rewarding career as a speech-language pathologist. My Purdue education helped me be the best I could be in delivering the care my patients and families needed and deserved during their recovery journey. My love of languages and unique experiences growing up in Ontario, Canada, as a first-generation daughter of parents who immigrated to Canada helped provide the empathy for others who struggle with communication and the passion to improve their skills. Communication is essential in all that we do in our daily lives, and it seems more crucial than ever. I look forward to my role as Presidential Ambassador — advocating for students and being a resource for them so they may enjoy the best experiences from their time at Purdue. The Purdue staff, faculty, alumni and general community are greatly inspiring, and I look forward to future events and collaborations together.”

As a team, the Feustels have worked to encourage students and people from a diverse array of backgrounds and countries. For example, Drew brought items to space including the plush Krtek toy, a favorite of Czech children of all ages; and a copy of “Moon Landscape,” a drawing by a Jewish child, Petr Ginz, from the ghetto and concentration camp in Terezin, near Prague, who perished at Auschwitz. Drew also took pictures of Earth from space, including Purdue University, and racetracks around the world. He uses these items and images to expose others to areas of science and research across technology and social boundaries. In 2019 Indira and Drew were awarded the Stars of Communication award from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association for their commitment to communication and science outreach to the public.

Inspiring and educating the next generation has always been as important to the Feustels as any advance in science or space, and they will continue to carry out that mission as Presidential Ambassadors. They will both participate in Purdue Space Day on Oct. 28; Purdue President’s Council activities in Naples, Florida, in February 2024; and Purdue alumni events in Houston, their hometown, as well as other engagements throughout the year.   

Having soared through the vacuum of space and helped give speech to the voiceless, the Feustels are helping the next generation find their own way to the stars and beyond. You can follow their journey on social media at Andrew Feustel: @astro_feustel; www.andrewfeustel.com and Indira Feustel: @Indirafeustel.

About Purdue University 

Purdue University is a public research institution with excellence at scale. Ranked among top 10 public universities and with two colleges in the top 4 in the United States, Purdue discovers and disseminates knowledge with a quality and at a scale second to none. More than 105,000 students study at Purdue across modalities and locations, with 50,000 in person on the West Lafayette campus. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue’s main campus has frozen tuition 12 years in a row. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap, including its first comprehensive urban campus in Indianapolis, the new Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. School of Business, and Purdue Computes, at https://www.purdue.edu/president/strategic-initiatives.

Writer/Media contact: Brittany Steff, bsteff@purdue.edu  

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