Abba Zubair grew up in crowded Kano, Nigeria, and though it was the second-largest city in the country, it was still prone to frequent, extended electrical blackouts. For young Zubair, that meant no TV, no radio, but he didn’t mind, for with the lights out he could gaze at the vast array of stars that shone in the skies over northern Nigeria.
What’s out there, he wondered?
He decided he wanted to see for himself: He would become an astronaut. “I want to go there, and I want to find out,” he said.
As a teen, a top student in physics and math, he devoured episodes of the 1970s TV show “Space: 1999.” He was studious, with a craving for knowledge. He would go to the British consulate and read journals and encyclopedias, learning everything he could on a variety of topics. And he joined a group of like-minded teens named Nigerian Young Inventors, who built a rocket that could have flown if only they’d had explosives to propel it into the air.
That was all preparation for his astronaut career.
Some 40 years later, on the Jacksonville campus of Mayo Clinic, he chuckled as he looked back fondly on those ambitions, which got knocked down some toward the end of high school.
“My career adviser said, ‘Abba, before Nigeria starts sending rockets and having astronauts, it won’t be in your lifetime. ‘Find something more down to earth.’”
More down to earth: He channeled his intelligence and ambition into medicine, a career path that led him to England, Switzerland and the U.S.
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