News & Politics

This Astronaut Left the Hubble Space Telescope for Georgetown

Astronaut Scott Altman shares why he chose Georgetown as his earthbound home base and how NASA prepared him for remodeling in the neighborhood. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

Scott Altman was commander of the final two missions to the Hubble Space Telescope—the last took place in May 2009—and logged a total of 51 days in space. But in 2010, with NASA about to end manned space flight, the astronaut and his family went in search of a new, earthbound destination. A job for Altman at the defense contractor ASRC Federal in Greenbelt brought them from Houston to Washington. Nearly two years ago, they bought a fixer-upper in Georgetown (yes, those still exist), deciding officially to make the neighborhood their home. Here’s a conversation with Altman.

How’s it been to remodel in Georgetown, where there probably are more rules than at NASA?

NASA was great preparation. Space flight requires an incredible amount of planning and attention to detail. There are also a lot of rules about how you can set up your mission timeline, what you can bring, and a formal approval process for all the procedures we train on. These are collected in a big book of flight rules. I think the Old Georgetown Board, which reviews design plans, has something along the same lines. One more similarity between space flight and remodeling in Georgetown: Both cost more than you thought at the start of the project.

What did you think Georgetown would be like before moving here?

While Georgetown is an urban environment where you hear a wide variety of languages and can walk to do al-most anything, it feels more like a neighborhood. We didn’t expect to enjoy just walking around and looking at the variety of architecture as much as we do. Walking our dog has been a great way to meet people since this is such a dog-friendly community.

One similarity between space flight and remodeling in Georgetown: Both cost more than you thought at the start of the project.

Scott Altman

Do your friends outside of DC have any misperceptions about life in Georgetown? 

Every time we tell someone where we live, you can predict the reaction. I usually start by saying we live in the District, and when they ask where, I say Georgetown. To which they almost always respond, “Oh, well!” I do try to manage expectations by making sure they know we purchased a fixer-upper and that we are still in the fixer stage.

Do you have a favorite movie that’s set in Georgetown?

An older [TV] movie I loved was The Missiles of October, about the Cuban missile crisis. The JFK mystique is still a big part of Georgetown. One of our neighbors had a scene from The Pelican Brief filmed in their house, where a Supreme Court justice is assassinated in his bed. A guilty pleasure is No Way Out, with Kevin Costner, a fellow Naval officer running through Georgetown to jump on the Metro—someday I hope that is true.

What are your favorite things to do?

We love taking our dog to Georgetown Waterfront Park and walking along the water’s edge and looking down river at the Kennedy Center and the rest of DC. Volta Park is a gem. The Tombs is our closest restaurant hangout, along with Wisemiller’s for a Chicken Madness sandwich on the weekend. I miss the Rhino Bar, which closed in 2015, as a place to watch my Houston Texans.

Is there any way to compare Georgetown and outer space?

I have to admit the view from outer space is pretty magnificent, along with floating in zero G, but for a long-term place to call home, I’ll take Georgetown.

This article appears in our May 2016 issue of Washingtonian.