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Astronaut, former Golden Eagle Barry Wilmore speaker for Chamber

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Former Golden Eagle linebacker Barry Wilmore, whose most recent headlines have been as a NASA astronaut and Space Shuttle pilot, was back in Cookeville Tuesday night to speak to the annual Chamber of Commerce Membership Dinner. Wilmore spoke to a packed house of 425 at the Leslie Towne Center.

Among the many points during his speech, Wilmore expressed his gratitude to the active service personnel around the world who are making the sacrifice of being away from their families to protect America's freedom. The comment from Wilmore, who is an active office in the U.S. Navy, drew large, rousing applause from the audience.

He drew laughter when he talked about one particular aspect of his turn as pilot of STS-129, the Space Shuttle Atlantis last year. Not knowing whether the craft would roll right or left once it achieved orbit, Wilmore was excited that it rolled to the right -- his direction -- and he was able to see the entire East Coast, one of many, many sights during his first journey into space that thrilled him. In essence, he had drawn the "window seat" on Atlantis.

Wilmore became just the 505th person to leave the planet, a number that he marveled about when he put it in perspective. His presentation was punctuated by slides and videos, beginning with the days of his youth and how he developed a dogged trait of determination. He also touched on his overwhelming pride at having played football at Tennessee Tech.

A former walk-on member of the Golden Eagle football team, Wilmore became a starter and eventually was inducted into the TTU Sports Hall of Fame. In describing himself as a football player, Wilmore says he was, "small and slow and weak, but I had determination."