Astronaut urges kids to work toward next big step in space
By Janelle Walker For The Courier-News May 25, 2012 5:00PM
Astronaut Sandra Magnus talks to eighth-graders Friday at Eastview Middle School about her trips to space. May 25, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 3, 2012 10:22AM
BARTLETT — If the United States decides it has the political will to make a manned space flight to Mars, it will, said NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus.
But for that and other space exploration to succeed, today’s schoolchildren need to be learning and earning degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Magnus said Friday at Bartlett’s Eastview Middle School.
Magnus spoke at the Elgin School District U46 school at the request of her sister, Janet Troyke. Her son, Max, attends Eastview, and over the years her sister has spoken at many of the school’s that Max has attended, including Sycamore Trails and Bartlett Elementary schools. On Friday morning, she also spoke at Trinity Lutheran School in Roselle, where Troyke’s daughter attends.
“I got lucky” that a parent at his school had connections to a NASA astronaut, said Eastview Principal Don Donner.
Magnus, 47, has been to space three times — twice on a space shuttle mission and once as a resident of the International Space Station (ISS). Magnus also was a member of the four-person crew on the shuttle program’s final mission last July.
Friday, she noted, was an important day in the U.S. space program as well. The SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule, an unmanned craft, docked at the space station — a first for a commercially built craft.
Looking beyond low-orbit
The entry of private business into space is the logical next step in low-orbit space flight, Magnus said.
“We have been in low-orbit flight for 50 years now,” and the private sector has matured enough to believe it can make a profit in low-orbit space. That could be in building rockets, space tourism, satellite maintenance or research — particularly research they do not want to share, she said.
NASA paved the way and did the government’s job, she said. The difference between what the government did and what private business is now doing is that “we don’t have to make a profit,” she added.
Magnus believes the next focus for NASA is going to be Mars, the Moon or asteroids — a little farther out from our home planet “and not in the immediate neighborhood.”
To get there, however, today’s middle school students will be the ones doing the research, she said. Our understanding of physics has advanced to a point “but we need a breakthrough for fundamental change” of how we launch into space, she said.
“We need to take a new, fresh look at the world,” Magnus said.
That can start in middle school, she said. That is about the age Magnus was when she decided to become an astronaut.
In the meantime, she got a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s in electrical engineering, worked on stealth technology at McDonnell Douglas, and got a Ph.D in materials science. Her first shuttle mission was in 2002. She went on to spend 4½ months living in the ISS.
That is what students asked the most about — what it was like living in space — including how they ate, how they bathed, how they went to the bathroom, and how it feels to be back on Earth after all of that.
“Gravity is horrible,” was a recurring theme for her. Magnus talked about re-training her body and balance after being in zero gravity for so long. “Gravity is trying to squash you down like a bug,” she said.