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Tag Archive: Peggy Whitson


Review by C.J. Bunce

Originally published last year in the UK as A Galaxy of Her Own: Amazing Stories of Women in Space, writer Libby Jackson, flight controller and flight director for the European Space Agency, brings her biographies for grade schoolers to U.S. readers re-titled as Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space.  An introduction to the space programs of the past and present for girls and boys, Galaxy Girls goes beyond being an assemblage of one-page stories of astronauts, looking back to women of many backgrounds and careers who heavily influenced the progress of space exploration, including many outside the field of aeronautics.  Most of the women in the book were not astronauts or “in space” as the title suggests, but it’s fair to say Earth’s space programs would not have been as successful–or continued to survive this long–without them.

Most fascinating is the scope of the book.  Readers will encounter standouts from expected fields including scientists and pilots, but also lawyers, doctors, textile workers and seamstresses, and women in the early roles as “computers” themselves.  The career path that women selected for the book took the most was that of engineer, but Jackson also includes others, like actress Nichelle Nichols, who, in addition to inspiring young women who would become astronauts from her role on Star Trek, assisted NASA in broadening their recruitment efforts in the 1970s and onward.  Wives of astronauts of years past are also spotlighted as influential and key to space exploration, and even the first woman tourist in space is included.

Readers will meet several women famous for their landmark firsts: Jeannette Piccard–first woman in the stratosphere, Jacqueline Cochran–first woman to break the sound barrier, Valentina Tereshkova–first woman in space, Eileen Collins–first woman shuttle pilot and commander, Svetlana Savitskaya–first woman spacewalker, and Peggy Whitson–first woman space station commander (who has gone on to create new records surpassing even male astronaut records in the past year since the book was written).  And they’ll learn about women who died in pursuit of space science: Christa McAuliffe, Judy Resnik, Kalpana Chawla, and Laurel Clark.  Some of the featured women worked behind the scenes to create the earliest space programs, and others featured are today’s pioneers in aeronautics and engineering, planning Earth’s space programs for tomorrow.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Young Leland Melvin wasn’t the type of kid who dreamed about flying in outer space.  But he was guided by good parents and developed the right stuff to work for NASA for more than a quarter of a century that culminated in two space shuttle flights to the International Space Station.  Melvin has written his memoir and it has been published in a version for kids and a version for adults.  Harper Collins and Amistad Press’s Chasing Space is a book that every school library should carry, a book kids should read to understand that you can be anything you want to be.

Melvin credits a good mind-set for his ability to adapt to new situations and succeed in whatever he put his mind to.  But even with hard work, life manages to get in the way sometimes.  Unforeseen circumstances stopped him in his tracks at several points in his many pursuits, including college, where he was almost expelled for an alleged ethics violation.  In high school football he made a mistake that his coach allowed him to redo, resulting in him getting a scholarship to college.  His girlfriend and he were pulled over and a racist police officer tried to get him thrown in jail.  He played football for the Detroit Lions, but a recurring hamstring problem knocked him out of the sport.  He got another chance at football, this time for the Dallas Cowboys, but his leg stopped him again.  Only after returning to graduate school work did his career in science take hold, and once he graduated NASA was practically waiting for him.  But his pathway to space was tripped up by a problem with his ear while training.  And despite it all, and being one of the first African-Americans to forge a path where few had gone before, Leland Melvin worked hard, mentally and physically, and overcame everything thrown in his way to become one of only 550 humans to leave the planet and become an astronaut.  He is known by many as the astronaut that had his formal NASA photograph taken with his two dogs, Jake and Scout, who would later join him and Cesar Millan on an episode of Millan’s Dog Whisperer show.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis with Leland Melvin (left) and crew of STS-129.

Melvin flew on the Space Shuttle Atlantis during missions STS-122 and STS-129 and worked closely with astronauts that were lost on both the Challenger and Columbia disasters as well as current astronauts like Peggy Whitson and Suni Williams, who have continued to set new records in space aboard the International Space Station.  In Star City, Russia, Melvin worked closely with and trained alongside former Navy SEAL Bill Shepherd–the famed astronaut “who knew how to kill somebody with a knife”–as Shepherd prepared for the very first long-duration flight by an American and becoming the first commander of a crew based at the International Space Station.  Melvin even helped Russian scientists translate tech manuals into English in Moscow.  Surprisingly astronaut training for Melvin included extreme survival training and adventure hikes across America and giving talks around the world, learning to stretch the boundaries of his own abilities.  When one of his crews was without a medical officer, he volunteered and trained to add that role to his list of duties.  He spent months stitching up cadavers and working on emergency room patients to be ready for any kind of emergency in space, training under the eye of famous skilled surgeon Dr. Red Duke, the doctor that had admitted President Kennedy and Governor Connally at the Dallas hospital in November 1963.  All these seeming tasks and trials are not obvious things the average person thinks about when they hear the word “astronaut.”  Yet all prepared Melvin to be able to think on his feet should a problem occur, and that according to Melvin’s account, is the way of astronaut training.

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The International Space Station’s Expedition 50, discussed previously here at borg.com, is readying for the 199th spacewalk in support of ISS activities this morning, to be televised at 7 a.m. Central.  It will be the eighth spacewalk for Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson, who will surpass NASA astronaut Suni Williams for completing the most spacewalks by a woman in the history of space travel.  At age 56, Whitson is the oldest woman to fly in space.  Stacking up some impressive space travel records, she is scheduled to command Expedition 51 later this year, which will make her the first woman to command two ISS expeditions.  By the end of her stint on ISS this year, Whitson will have spent more time in space than any other U.S. Astronaut–male or female–to surpass the record of 534 days set by Astronaut Jeff Williams.  Whitson is a biochemist from Mt. Ayr, Iowa.

This past weekend the ISS robotically moved the Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 (PMA-3)–a pressurized interface between the station modules and the docking adapter–between modules.  In what is scheduled as a 6 hour and 30 minutes spacewalk Whitson and Expedition Commander Shane Kimbrough will manually reconnect cables and electronics and install the second of two upgraded computer relay boxes on the ISS’s truss and install shields and covers on PMA-3 and the unused module port.

NASA’s most experienced female astronaut, Whitson has been onboard ISS since November 2016.  This is her third space flight.  Her first flight was in 2002 as a member of the crew of Expedition 5.  In 2007 on her second flight she became the first woman flight commander, leading Expedition 16.  Whitson had previously been tied with Suni Williams for an earlier spacewalk record that Whitson had also surpassed.  Whitson continues to expand extravehicular activity (EVA) duration records.

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Expedition 49 official crew portrait with 47S crew (Anatoli Ivanishin, Kate Rubins, Takuya Onishi) and 48S crew (Shane Kimbrough, Andrei Borisenko, Sergei Ryzhikov). Photo Date: January 13, 2016. Location: Building 8, Room 183 - Photo Studio. Photographer: Robert Markowitz

American NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Takuya Onishi safely landed their Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft in Kazakhstan at about 1 p.m. CDT on Saturday.  The Expedition 48/49 trio completed hundreds of scientific research experiments throughout 115 days in space aboard the International Space Station, working with three other ISS crewmembers who remain on the station.  The world class space lab, bypassing international politics and cultural conflicts, continues to demonstrate how humans, when they set their minds to it, can rise above any barrier to work for the betterment of all people and life on Earth.

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The ISS has been continuously occupied for 15 years and 363 days since the arrival of Expedition 1 on November 2, 2000–the longest continuous human presence in low Earth orbit, surpassing space station Mir’s previous record of 9 years and 357 days.

expedition-49

Expedition 49/50’s Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, will operate the station for three weeks until the arrival of three new crew members from Expedition 50/51, Peggy Whitson of NASA, French spationaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency, and Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos.  The new crew is scheduled to launch November 17, 2016, from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

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