April 2, 2022

#SpotlightSaturday Board of Directors: Meet Francis French

Francis French is a bestselling space historian in the field of human space flight with over 20 years of STEM education experience. He worked directly for America’s first woman in space, Sally Ride, to encourage middle school girls to explore STEM careers. Francis has been on the board since 2019 and is incredibly passionate about events and programs that get students excited about STEM.

I had the opportunity to speak with Francis last week to talk about what gets him #SpaceInspired!

Katy Thompson: What Inspires you to serve as a Board of Directors Member for Higher Orbits?

Francis French: I didn’t always respond well to being taught math and science and engineering in a very strict academic way. What I did respond to was collaboration, teamwork, friendly, approachable, fun, mutual activities, whatever they were, whether it was art, the sciences. That’s what I responded to, and I think I would have done a lot better academically in science had I had the opportunity to do something like that. There is a need and I wish it had been there when I was a kid.

KT: I noticed during a lot of your experience in the past with Sally Ride Science and the San Diego Air and Space Museum, you worked with a lot of students in our (Higher Orbits) age range. Can you talk a little bit about how those experiences have an impact on your current role as a Board of Directors member?

FF: I do have a school teaching qualification, but I have always preferred, to be those extra opportunities whether it was summer camp, or field trips, or informal science. And that’s where I feel students get much more of that collaboration and teamwork. It’s something that I got involved with Higher Orbits because at the Air and Space Museum, we actually hosted a Higher Orbits event and it was exactly what I was loving to collaborate on because it was the type of immediate thing where I got to see little kids getting together, strong team members in certain areas would pull other kids along in other ways, and you just see these skills these kids are going to get, whatever they do next in life.

KT: If shipping and packaging was not an issue, what three things would you pack if you were traveling to Mars tomorrow?


  1. Home comforts
    if shipping and packaging was not a problem, I would surely think a large and luxurious home would be fun…
  2. LOTS of research
    The stuff that excites me about Mars are the things we don’t know. Right now, we know so much about soil chemistry and these tantalizing clues about possible life conditions, water resources, and I think while I want to give a selfish answer, most of my answer, would be to take enormous amounts of scientific research to analyze that stuff…
  3. Piles of books
    So, let’s see, I have home comforts, including lots of water and stuff, incredible amounts of research (so I could do geological chemical sampling) and that would leave me with the piles of books. I think one of the things the pandemic has taught most of us is that there are lots of great books out there that we have never had time to read before, and now we are finally getting there… 

We are over the moon to have Francis continue to support Higher Orbits as a returning Board of Directors member. Thank you for helping us in our journey to inspire the next generation of STEMists!

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