Last fall, I was able to conduct a brief interview via email with retired astronaut Dottie Metcalfe-Lindenburger. She is one of four Educator-Astronauts who have traveled into space, the first Space Camp alumna to fly in space, and has spent a total of fifteen days, two hours, forty-seven minutes in space. Today, Metcalfe-Lindenburger shares memories of growing up with an encouraging family and thoughts about her time as an astronaut.
What was your family’s and/or your community’s attitude about space and space travel when you were a child?
My family was fascinated with space travel. My mom and dad have math and science backgrounds, so they shared the importance of space and their excitement for the Apollo missions. They also took me to the planetarium, bought National Geographic books about space, bought my first telescope, took me to see the movie The Right Stuff, tried to see a launch while we were at Disney World and vacationing in FL, and sent me to Space Camp when my essay took second place.
Did any particular books, comics, movies, and/or television shows inspire you to become an astronaut? Are there any specific characters in these mediums who caused you to pursue your dream?
I loved Star Wars, especially Princess Leia. I needed a strong female character! I also loved watching Wonder Woman – my cousins and I would dress up and play these characters around my grandmother’s neighborhood in Billings, MT.
As a woman, has it been harder to break into the astronaut profession?
I don’t know; only two women were hired in my class (2004). We obviously had to meet the standards, and being a woman may have helped because NASA tries to hire a diverse group of people. Most of the time I tried to do my best and just be me, but it was not always easy. The spacewalk suits are made for male proportions. While I was lucky to be tall and strong, the suit did not work as easily for me as it might for a male with the same height.
Have you read Tanya Lee Stone’s Almost Astronauts? Were you aware of these 13 women and their participation in NASA’s training program when you started training?
I need to read this book. I did read Promised the Moon by Stephanie Nolen – I was not aware until after my Astronaut Candidate training was completed. I read it while I was on maternity leave with my daughter.
Who are your real life heroines?
My mom, grandmother, aunts, and great-grandmother. I admire many women–past and present–for their courage, strength, humor, ideas, talents, etc. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I read a biography about Abigail Adams–I presented her to my class, while wearing a costume my mother made for me. Her ideas and life inspired me.
Do you have a favorite portrayal of space and/or astronauts in popular media?
Apollo 13, From the Earth to the Moon, The Planets.
Could you describe what it’s like to take off in a space shuttle?
When the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) light, you get the biggest kick in the back that you’ve probably felt (unless you are a football player getting tackled from behind). Then you are shaking as if you are on a wooden roller coaster. Then you move smoothly because the SRBs have dropped back into the ocean. Then you feel like someone is sitting on your chest and getting heavier and heavier. And finally, you are floating…and all of that happened in just over eight minutes, while you were monitoring trajectories, gauges, screens, and checklists.
What is your favorite thing about being in space? Least favorite?
I loved working at a peak level with a team of people I cared about; I loved floating and flipping around; I loved looking down on Earth and out into the Milky Way. I did not like getting constipated or having gas.
What kinds of experiments have you conducted while in space?
I helped deliver experiments, and we had the TriDAR rendezvous tool that I set up and took down with Naoko Yamazaki. I also participated in a medical experiment.
What are your hopes for the future of the space program?
I hope we continue to work with our international partners and go to Mars!!!
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