NASA astronaut visits UD, shares tales of adventure
BY ERICH HINDE
"Words can't describe life in space," a NASA co-pilot from the 100th space mission said in a discussion Friday afternoon in Sharp Laboratory.
"The best way I can put it is simply extraordinary."
NASA astronaut Pam Melroy delivered a speech titled "Highlights of the 100th Space Shuttle Mission and Beyond" in which she talked about her experiences in space and her dreams of becoming an astronaut.
Melroy told an audience of approximately 55 people that she had always been interested in being an astronaut.
After receiving her master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1984, Melroy said, she went to Undergraduate Pilot Training at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas. Eventually, she flew combat missions over Iraq and Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm.
When she was getting ready to fly a combat mission, Melroy said, she got a call telling her she was accepted to the Air Force Test Pilot School, where she learned to fly demo models of military planes.
Seven years later, Melroy's dream was realized—she had been selected to the astronaut corps.
It was a tough decision because it meant giving up something special, Melroy said.
"I was being torn away to do something that I liked even more," she said. "With NASA, I have some of the same test-pilot opportunities that I did before."
Her 1992 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery was to add a sliding door to the International Space Station.
Melroy showed a picture of the crew and described its responsibilities to the group.
"Teamwork is our most highly prized characteristic," she said. "You might step into the spotlight, but the whole group is still performing support functions for you, so we never do anything by ourselves."
Melroy said her most dramatic moment was at the end of the mission, when the crew pulled away from the ISS.
"We pulled away and saw how different the station looked than it had when we had arrived," she said. "It was an overwhelming feeling of success."
She said she encountered several lifestyle changes while in space.
Along with being apart from her family, she said, food was another element of everyday life she missed.
Before leaving Earth, she said, one crewmember made a batch of paella for the team. Everyone liked it so much that he took a sample to a laboratory and had it dehydrated and made into a meal pack so they could take it with them.
"That was definitely the best meal of the trip," she said.
Although Melroy admitted to struggling with physics early in college, she said she never gave up on her dream.
"What kept me hanging in there was this recognition that I always wanted to be an astronaut," she said.
"I just gritted my teeth and kept plugging away at it and then, one day, the light bulb went on, and it all started to make sense."
Harry Shipman, a professor of physics and astronomy, said he thought Melroy provided motivation while inspiring people to never give up on their dreams.
Astrophysicist Bob Stachnik said be taught Melroy at Wellesley College, and knew she was something special.
"She was damn good," he said. "Her persistence and passion [for success] was something I'd never seen before."
Melroy's speech was part of a colloquium series sponsored by the physics and astronomy department.