U.S. Navy Capt. David Brown was born April 16, 1956, in Arlington, Va. While growing up he didn’t have a specific dream of becoming an astronaut. Although he thought that being an astronaut would be a good job, he didn’t think it was possible.
“I was a little bit late for Mercury, but I remember Gemini and Apollo quite well in the Sixties, and then Skylab and early shuttle,” he said in a preflight interview. “But I absolutely couldn’t identify with the people who were astronauts. I thought they were movie stars. And I just thought I was kind of a normal kid. And so I couldn’t see a path how a normal kid could ever get to be one of these people that I just couldn’t identify with. And so, while I would’ve said, ‘Hey, this is like the coolest thing you could possibly do,’ it really wasn’t something that I ever thought that I would end up doing.”
However, he did have an interest in science and flying that would eventually lead him on a path to becoming an astronaut. It was later in life that his idea about becoming an astronaut would change.
“And, it was really kind of much later in life after I’d been in medical school, I’d gone on to become a Navy pilot, that I really thought, ‘Well, maybe I would have some skills and background that NASA might be interested in,'” Brown said. “And then I went ahead and applied. So, I think growing up I really underestimated myself. And I was really a bit wrong about things that I could do, and I’m glad I figured out kind of later in life that if I wanted to pursue that, that I could.”
Brown graduated from Arlington’s Yorktown High School in 1974 and then went to college at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. While at William and Mary, Brown was a member of the Tribe’s varsity gymnastics team. He said his gymnastics coach had an influence that helped him later in life.
“He was a fellow that really took, actually did — and still does — take a very long-term view of what athletics and education are all about. And, he’s just been investing in people in that program ever since,” Brown said. “When I look back now, and I think I understand a little more what he was doing now than at the time, he invests in people and gives a lot of his time and attention. He certainly did to me. I learned a lot about what it’s to be, what it’s like to be on a team. What you need to know to be on a team. About setting personal goals. And about [having the] daily discipline to get to those goals.”
Brown also used his athletic talents during college to work as an acrobat, 7-foot unicyclist and stilt walker for Circus Kingdom.
After graduating from William and Mary with a bachelor’s degree in biology, he went to Eastern Virginia Medical School, where he earned a doctorate in medicine in 1982. He performed his internship in South Carolina and went to the U.S. Navy flight surgeon school in 1984.
In 1988, Brown became the only flight surgeon to be selected for pilot training in a 10-year period. He completed his training and became a naval aviator in 1990, ranking first in his class. He logged 1,700 hours of flight time in high-performance military aircraft during his stint with the Navy. He said that being a pilot and doctor was beneficial for him.
“As a physician and as a pilot, I think it lets me be a pretty good translator, having one foot in the medical world and one foot in the flying world,” he said. “Sometimes when the medical guys come in and speak medical stuff to the pilots, the pilots really don’t know what they’re saying. And vice versa.”
In 1996, his talents took him to NASA when he was selected as an astronaut candidate. Brown became qualified as a pilot for NASA’s T-38 aircraft.
In a preflight interview, Brown said that as an astronaut, he hoped to help in the advancement of science. “Whatever I can do to contribute to science, to improve science, I think is really great,” he said.