In three years since coming to NASA, I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few of the current astronaut corps. All space shuttle launches are cool, but it’s a higher degree of cool when you’ve met one of the people on board. Well, early Monday morning, one of the few I know, Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, launched on her first spaceflight as a member of the STS-131 space shuttle crew.
The first time I met astronaut Dottie, I had been working with NASA all of two weeks! My co-worker and I were sent to Johnson Space Center to interview folks about their NASA careers for a special Web site for the STS-118 shuttle mission. That flight carried Barbara Morgan, mission specialist and NASA’s first Educator Astronaut, into space. Dottie is also an educator who was selected to be a mission specialist, so our interview focused on her path to NASA and the unique role of astronauts who are also teachers.
I saw Dottie again a year or so later at the Space Exploration Educators Conference at Space Center Houston. This time she was singing on stage with the astronaut band “Max Q.” Times like that remind you that astronauts are real people with hobbies and things they enjoy doing.
This past summer I saw Dottie again, back at Johnson Space Center, for another interview. But this time I wasn’t talking to one of the newest astronauts in the corps about her hopes for a future spaceflight — I was talking to an STS-131 mission specialist about her job as a robotic arm operator on an upcoming mission to the International Space Station.
This interview was different also because I wasn’t at Johnson exclusively for the purpose of doing interviews for a shuttle mission. I was at nearby Ellington Field training to fly on a reduced-gravity flight. My schedule was very tight, but I really wanted to work in an interview with Dottie while I was there. Our team was getting ready to work on a new robotics site related to her spaceflight, and we wanted to add a feature about all of the training involved to use the robotic arms on the shuttle and station.
It was a little funny and surreal to me – here I was trying to work an interview into an astronaut’s busy shuttle training schedule while having to consider my own packed training schedule. While Dottie was training to work in the weightlessness of space, I was training to work in the simulated weightlessness of a reduced-gravity flight. It was neat, during part of our interview, to hear about her experience flying in NASA’s “Weightless Wonder” aircraft and knowing that I was about to do something that only astronauts and a few others get to do. “I just want to see what it’s going to be like to float around for a really long time,” Dottie told me. “I’m looking forward to not doing parabolas to get zero-g.” While she was looking forward to the real thing, I was looking forward to experiencing just a fraction of what it’s like to be in space.
Be sure to check out my first interview with Dottie where she talks about how the question “How do you go to the bathroom in space?” changed her life. In my second interview, read how astronauts learn to use the robotic arm in space while firmly on Earth.