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Astronaut with Alzheimer's gifted dying wish, says 'I'll never forget.' UPDATED

Astronaut with Alzheimer's gifted dying wish, says 'I'll never forget.' UPDATED


From rocket ships to race cars, this incredible man was passionate about going fast.

This story is a long one but I truly recommend you grab your tissue box and read on. One woman wrote to Reddit when she found out her had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He had been an inspiration to her for years. He was a former scientist and NASA astronaut. He also was a lifelong Formula 1 fan. She was shocked to find out he had never been able to go to a race. She decided to do something about it while he was still with us.

'Astronaut F1 fan in need'


Dear Reddit,

My name is Stacy, and I live in South Austin. My friend and former grad school advisor, Sam, is a long-time F1 racing fan. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease last summer.

Recently, I was shocked to learn that he has never been to a Formula 1 race in his life! Long story short, my husband and I were able to share our 4 tickets with him and his wife to attend this year’s US Grand Prix event in Austin.

He means a lot to me, really was like a father to me while I was in school - and has had an accomplished career as a scientist and NASA astronaut (been to space twice!). We want to make the experience extra special for him, while he can still enjoy it.

He's a huge car guy and used to race in his younger days, so we'd love to get him up close to one of the cars, see the pit area, or -- shooting for the moon here, pun intended -- meet a driver. He is so excited just to be coming here, any extra experience would be amazing.

Does anyone know somebody or have contacts with F1 to make this happen for him? We also are reaching out to folks at COTA -- just casting a wide net here -- to see if anyone can help. Thank you in advance!

PS - I can verify his and my identity privately if needed.

Reddit readers found this incredibly moving. Here were the top comments:


It's a long shot but pinging /u/mercedes-amgf1


Agreed with this. And if you have a Twitter…tweet/message the Mercedes team. They are usually good on noticing that kind of stuff and setting people up!


Seriously. F1 would jump at the chance to have an astronaut in the paddock. Sky might even get in on it.

Don’t worry about your tickets, you might get getting grid passes.


I would recommend contacting teams directly or contacting their SM teams.

The OP responded in the comments:


I spoke with Sam and his wife this afternoon. I told them about this post and the massive response it's gotten, they are just floored. I read some of the funny comments to them and they laughed. Thanks for everyone's positivity, efforts, and especially thanks for the pm's. Even if nothing comes of this, we still have our original seat tickets. I'll try to post pics and an update later! Thank you!

3 weeks later, the OP returned with an update.

Our Race Story


At first I wasn't sure if posting on Reddit was a good idea-- I'm a private person and I generally don't like the spotlight. But I love this man like a father, and I'm glad I took a chance, and ESPECIALLY that you all took a chance on us too. THANK YOU from me and my DH, Sam, and his wife.

As some of you guessed, the man in question is Dr. Sam Durrance. He was a payload specialist on Astro-1 (Columbia, 1990) and Astro-2 (Endeavour, 1995). He and his wife Becky, were thrilled to come to the USGP.

After I posted, COTA reached out and they offered us tickets to the pit walk on Thursday afternoon. We went directly from the airport to the track! Sam really got a kick watching the teams practice tire changes. Even if that was all that happened, we would have been happy.

In addition, one of the Alpine team NDT technicians, Matt, had reached out via PM to offer a personal tour of their garage. Being a technical and instrument guy, we knew Sam would LOVE this, so we conspired (with his wife) to surprise him. We took him to Alpine’s garage during the pit walk, and they opened the fence to let us though.

The staff was kind and amazing. Since Sam was a racer back in his younger days, they gave him the full technical tour, which he followed closely and really enjoyed. The Alpine staff was asking him questions about his experiences in space, and they loved his stories, too. They even let him hold Esteban Ocon’s steering wheel!

While all this was going on, my dear husband, who I love, wondered out loud “I wish we could meet a driver.” Another technician heard, and 2 minutes later, out walks Esteban Ocon, who is actually a giant. Esteban spent a few minutes talking to Sam. They were both smiling a LOT.

To thank them, Sam’s wife Becky, gave Matt and Esteban patches from Sam’s shuttle missions. We found out later that Ocon said it was really cool that he got to meet an astronaut. And that made me very happy.

They gave us Alpine hats, which we wore proudly for the entire weekend. We cheered hard for Ocon and Alonso (despite side mirror shenanigans).

In the end we made it to FP2, all of Quali, and the driver parade and race. This experience also brought Sam and I closer together, and strengthened the bond between our families. Becky especially wanted me to express how extremely special this was for Sam, and that she could not have done it for him on her own.

Now he's home, and he won't stop talking about it to anyone that will listen. 'He won't ever forget this.'

I want to thank COTA and Alpine Racing for making Sam’s first F1 race an amazing experience. My husband and I will always have a special place in our hearts for Alpine Racing and Reddit. I pretty much despise social media, but y'all have restored my faith that such power can be used for good, not evil.

Here were the top comments after the first update:


Wow, this warms my heart all the way back in Sweden! What a fantastic result!


Yeah . . . no surprise Ocon was overjoyed at the mission patch. What kid has not wanted to be an astronaut at some point. And then to MEET one? Hells yeah. So happy this worked out for all concerned, and that you all enjoyed your weekend.


Awesome story, that's great to hear he had a special experience! Props to the track and team for helping out.


I am glad that the Formula 1 subreddit came to you in your moment of need, but also I am pleased that your friend made it to the Austin Race! To have a friend that is an astronaut is cool but also been to space twice, that is something else.

For those interested, here is the Wikipedia page for astronaut in this story:

Samuel Thornton Durrance

And here are several Wikipedia articles on the Shuttle missions of Samuel Thornton Durrance.

STS-35 (Wikipedia)

STS-67 (Wikipedia)

STS-61-E (Cancelled) (Wikipedia)

If anyone is interested, his family and friends shared some photos of Samuel from the race.

Race day (Sam and Becky Durrance in the stands)

Race day

Alpine garage tour (OP and Sam posing with Esteban Ocon in the Alpine garage)

Ocon's new shuttle patches (Esteban Ocon displaying two space shuttle patches from Sam)

Thursday pit walk (OP, Sam, and Becky posing in the pit lane)

Sam can drive! (Sam holding an Alpine steering wheel)

On May 5th, the OP returned with a sad and touching conclusion to this heartwarming story.

Astronaut F1 fan in need - conclusion


Dear Reddit,

I'm sad to share the news that my beloved friend and mentor, a two-time astronaut and lifelong F1 fan, Dr. Sam Durrance, 79, passed away today. After being hospitalized for a fall, he soon entered hospice care, while his family and friends visited for comfort and farewells. He passed away peacefully near his home in Florida, surrounded by family.

I'm told by a mutual friend that in his last days of consciousness, he had a few lucid moments; during one of the visitations, he reminisced about his days as a young man racing cars and working on engines -- and then re-told the story of his trip to the Austin GP last year.

Even with Alzheimer's, a horrible disease that so viciously attacks short term memory, that experience was so powerful, he carried it to his final moments.

I'm so grateful this community rallied to up vote, comment, forward, and repost to make that happen for him. You made a difference in all our lives, and his family and mine thank you. Deepest heartfelt thanks especially to Matt ( u/mattbrom ), BWT Alpine F1 Team, and Ms. Fuentes at COTA.

There was also a beautiful obituary for this wonderful space racer and a family statement.

Here were the top comments from readers who followed this touching story:


That's a really lovely story. And Esteban Ocon is apparently one of the nicest guys in the paddock so I'm sure they had a great visit to the Alpine garage. Kudos to the OOP for putting the cherry on the cake of a remarkable life well lived.


Bless him. Farewells are never easy but I'm glad all his loved ones got a chance to see him being looked after in comfort. I'm glad he spent an amazing time in the paddock and carried those memories through to the end. Rest in peace.


My faith in Reddit is ever so much restored. They gave an Alzheimer’s patient a memory so beautiful he actually remembered forever.

And now excuse me as I go get a tissue.


'He won't ever forget this.'

And then he actually remembered it all the way to the end.

I did not expect that.


I am not crying. I am NOT crying. Nope.

Okay I’m full on crying. This is just the beauty of the community of the internet and what it can be when people come together.

All in all, this is an example of how the internet can sometimes bring about some much needed joy. We hope you enjoyed getting to hear about this celebrated man and his dream come true.

Sources: Reddit,Reddit,Reddit
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