Photo: Courtesy of Michelle Lucas
Each month we’ll be introducing you to a United Airlines frequent flyer, so you can get to know your fellow passengers. This month, it’s Michelle Lucas. She runs a non-profit and likes to explore different cultures. She was on the first ever United flight to Tahiti in 2018. Let’s meet Michelle…
What do you do for a living?
I run Higher Orbits, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that uses space to get students more engaged in STEM. We run a program called Go for Launch!, in which students all across the country get to work with an astronaut and compete to have their experiments flown to space. We have flown 10 student experiments to space already. I’m also the Senior VP at Uniphi Space Agency, a management agency for retired astronauts. I am very much a space geek!
What’s the next vacation you have planned?
Every December, I fly to Chicago to have a mother-daughter festive holiday fun outing. My mom and I get a room in downtown Chicago, go to Winter WonderFest on Navy Pier, visit the Museum of Science and Industry for the Christmas Around the World exhibit, check out the windows at Macy’s, and eat at The Walnut Room under the Great Tree.
What’s the most transformative trip you’ve ever taken?
My first trip to Russia, in early 2003. I was picked up at the airport and driven to Star City, where the space center for training cosmonauts is, because I was going to be working there for the week. As we were driving, I saw the large statue of Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space. I had to pinch myself that I was in a city that, when I was a young girl and already in love with space, wasn’t shown on a map, because it was so secretive. This trip reframed how I looked at the world and made me want to better understand different cultures.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met on a United flight?
Gene Cernan—the last human to walk on the moon. I saw him on a flight from IAD to IAH, and when we deplaned I walked up and said that I was sorry to intrude on him, but as a fellow Purdue Boilermaker and someone who worked in human spaceflight at Johnson Space Center, he was a hero to me. He not only chatted with me there, we walked together—arm in arm!—to baggage claim.
What’s your favorite United flight you’ve been on?
People chuckle when I say, “If United doesn’t fly there, I’m not going,” but I’m serious! For a long time the top of my bucket list had been to travel to Tahiti. I had a milestone birthday, and about five months prior, it was announced that United was going to start flying there! I was fortunate to be on the first ever United flight to Tahiti in 2018.
Which famous person (living or dead) would be your dream seatmate?
RuPaul [above]. I love everything he stands for. He is someone who works to help make our planet a better and more inclusive place. And I am not going to lie, I wouldn’t mind getting some fashion tips, too!
Next-Up: Frequent Flyer Peter Sasaki