Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dr. Cady Coleman: International Space Station

     Last Wednesday, even though the Girls of Steel were securely grounded on Earth, we were so excited that felt as if we were high in the sky, floating in space, looking down on the entire Earth from above.

A Girl of Steel asking Dr. Coleman a question!
     The Girls of Steel had the amazing opportunity last week to talk live with NASA Astronaut Dr. Cady Coleman while she was on the International Space Station (ISS). Dr. Coleman gave us a tour of the ISS, showing us the European module, the Japanese module, and the main part of the space station. 

     She explained many of the robotic parts on the space station that help her and the crew perform experiments, put together new modules, and fix broken parts (often carrying very large objects) without even needing the crew to leave the safety of the station. She even showed us Dextre, the complicated robotic arm integrated into the ISS and explained some of its defects (such as the loss of maneuverability) as a result of over-processing -- cautioning us not to make the same mistakes.

     Dr. Coleman also showed us Robotnaut, the newest addition to their crew. She described what the Robotnaut was built to test and explained the process of bringing him up to working order -- waiting for the last mechanical components before they could upload the programming to make him work. 

     Besides giving us a mind-blowing tour around the space station, Dr. Coleman made us feel at ease when talking with her. She shared her experiences about being a woman working in science and technology. She answered all of our questions, from "What's the thing you miss the most from Earth?" to "What was the endurance training like?" and even gave us advice to help us throughout our lives.

     She recounted personal stories about her life, explaining to us how she came to be an astronaut. She described an incident where she joked over a public communication that she could see a UFO out of the side of the space shuttle -- a story that blew up into an extra-terrestrial scare -- making us realize that even she sometimes makes mistakes. 

     She also shared the core philosophies that have guided her life and career -- be determined, work hard, respect and never underestimate the contributions of your teammates, and never give up.

     "Are you afraid when you strap yourself into the space shuttle or work on the space station, after everything that happened to the Challenger?" one of the Girls of Steel asked Dr. Coleman. She replied that no, she had made her decision about that risk before she even came to be an astronaut, and she knew that she was prepared and committed to her choice.

     Dr. Coleman did more than inspire us to try our hardest. She empowered us. For the Girls of Steel, this was truly an experience we will never forget.