Female Astronaut Shares Down-to-Earth Advice

By Tim Johnson

An astronaut who spoke Friday at Kirn and Wilson Middle Schools had some out-of-this-world stories but also some down-to-Earth advice for an audience of eighth-graders.

Megan McArthur was part of SpaceX Crew-2, which flew to the International Space Station last year and completed a mission of almost 200 days.

The crew — which included two NASA astronauts as well as one from the European Space Agency and one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency — blasted off in the Crew Dragon Endeavour on April 23, 2021, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and docked at the ISS after almost 24 hours, joining several astronauts already there.

During their extended stay on the space station, the crew helped with scientific investigations, maintenance tasks and other activities.

“I was doing all kinds of different research,” McArthur said. “(We) had a really great crew.”

She studied immunity, grew chili peppers, collected samples and did numerous experiments. She also took pictures of the Earth and snapshots of her teammates. Among the remarkable sights she witnessed from space were hurricanes, aurora borealis and thunderstorms on the Earth.

After orbiting the Earth 3,194 times on the space station, McArthur and her original four-person crew flew back to Earth and splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on Nov. 8, 2021 near Pensacola, Florida.

Where did her dream start? McArthur’s father was a Lockheed P3 aircraft pilot in the Navy, so her family moved often and lived in several different countries.

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“At your age, I started to think about, what do I want to do with the rest of my life?” she said.

As a middle and high school student growing up in California, McArthur watched planes land at the nearby Moffett Field next to the Ames Research Center and saw astronauts in their blue suits get out of the planes and walk into the building. She thought it would be neat to be an astronaut – but it seemed unrealistic.

“There were not any women who were fighter pilots at that time” and very few female astronauts. “There were women who were engineers and scientists.”

McArthur decided to become an engineer and earned a degree in aerospace engineering at University of California at Los Angeles. But at the urging of a friend, she got involved in a project to build a submarine.

“I fell in love with exploring the ocean,” she said.

Then McArthur met the first woman to do a spacewalk and talked to her about her dreams. She told McArthur that she needed to do what she felt most passionate about.

McArthur earned a doctorate in ocean engineering and got a job installing equipment on ships, but she began telling people that she wanted to become an astronaut – and eventually, after working toward that and applying, she was selected.

“I was lucky,” she said. “There were lots of people who wanted to become astronauts.”

McArthur told students about several keys to reaching their dreams:

Do the research to find out what it takes to be successful in careers that interest you.

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Explore your options.

Find a mentor – someone who believes in your and wants to help you reach your goals.

Build a team – a group of people who support you.

Do the work it takes to prepare. “In order to be lucky at the right time, I had to be ready,” she said. “You have to have a plan, and you have to be willing to do the work.”

Seek feedback. People who are in your corner will help you make progress.

Challenge yourself. Along the way, you will need to do things you don’t want to do.

Celebrate your milestones. She said her commander on the ISS gave her a patch when she reached 100 days on the space station. “It’s important to celebrate those things for yourself and your team,” she said.

Learn from your mistakes. “We’re human, and we make mistakes,” she said. Don’t let yourself dwell on them for long, though. “Remorse doesn’t do us any good unless we learn from it. If you need backup from somebody, you ask for that backup,” she said.

Be a mentor. “It’s also important for you to be a mentor. I teach astronauts that are junior – that are less experienced than I am,” she said.

Enjoy the journey!

The Union Pacific Railroad Museum, 200 Pearl St., will hold “From Steam Engines to Rocket Ships: Pushing Boundaries” Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. McArthur will be on site for photo opportunities and questions from 2 to 4 p.m.

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