Written by Shala Hainer Tuesday, December 06 2011Snapshot: Sandra Magnus, astronaut
|S135-E-009337 (18 July 2011) -- Backlit by Earth's "day time" light, NASA astronaut Sandy Magnus, STS-135 mission specialist, gets one last visit to the Cupola onboard the International Space Station. on July 18, 2011.|
After two years of training, in 1998 Magnus began working on projects for the International Space Station (ISS) with NASA as a mission specialist. In 2002, she took her first journey into space aboard the space shuttle Atlantis to install a new component on the space station's truss structure. During her nearly 11 days in space, Magnus took three space walks and operated the station's robotic arm to complete the installation.
In 2008, Magnus flew into space again, this time to live on the ISS for more than four months. During that mission, she traveled more than 50 million miles while orbiting the Earth. She worked with the international residents of the station to improve the station's living quarters and perform science experiments for Earth-bound researchers. She was part of NASA's final shuttle mission in July 2011, delivering supplies and researching the potential for robotically refueling existing spacecraft.
Magnus has received numerous awards, including the NASA Space Flight Medal in 2002 and 2009 and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal 2009.
Womenetics: Your career took a couple of different turns before you became an astronaut. What finally sparked you to try to fulfill your childhood dream?
Sandra Magnus: I had always wanted to be an astronaut and that end goal was always in sight. I also had a personal goal of earning a Ph.D., which happened to only make my application stronger. I initially thought I would continue straight through undergrad to grad school, but after four years of college decided I wanted to work and see what the “real world” was like. So I got a job after getting my bachelor's and did my master’s at night school instead of full time during the day. I knew work experience was another key ingredient for an astronaut application, so I was still moving in the direction I wanted to go. I finally applied to the program when I felt that I had built up a reasonable résumé.
Womenetics: What is the most interesting thing you've learned during your time with the space program?
Magnus: Wow, there has been so much that I have learned, not only about myself, but about the world, human nature, our planet, doing complex and international projects, photography. Things great and small have crossed my path. One of the best things about being an astronaut (besides getting to fly in space) is the fact that you are always learning something new, every day.
Womenetics: How do you manage the stress space travel can cause, emotionally and physically?
Magnus: Well, I don’t think that space travel is stressful, either physically or emotionally. We are trained very well, and, really, if anything could be called stressful, I would say it was the training. To train for a long duration mission on the ISS, you are traveling every other month, for a month’s stay, to Russia, Europe, or Japan. This pace continues for about 2.5 years. Getting to stay in one place for six months, aboard the ISS, is actually a great relief.
Womenetics: What was it like to be a part of the final space shuttle mission in July?
Magnus: Most of the time, we were focused on training and learning everything we needed to learn to pull off the mission successfully, so the fact that we were the last mission was not necessarily at the forefront of our minds. Occasionally though, it would hit as we were finishing various training events, and the people who were working with us would announce that the next day, or next week, they were being let go. Our class was the last event for them. Really, I cannot say enough great things about the people who worked on the shuttle program, especially those who stayed all the way to the end. They knew that meant the end of their jobs but wanted to make sure that the program and our mission were able to be completed in a safe and successful manner. My hat is off to these people and their dedication and devotion and professionalism.
|ISS028-E-017077 (16 July 2011) --- When asked by a reporter if she noticed a difference in the International Space Station on her current visit with the Atlantis STS-135 crew, versus an earlier lengthy visit, NASA astronaut Sandy Magnus mentioned the Cupola's addition, which was not on the station during her earlier stay there. This is one of series of photos showing Magnus, mission specialist for the Space Shuttle Program's final flight, taking advantage of the zero gravity of space and the panoramic view provided by the multi-windowed Cupola.|
Magnus: Yes, I did. As I mentioned above, the training was really great and prepares you to be a jack-of-all-trades kind of person. Training also teaches you to be flexible, which is an important skill for living and working on the space station. Because I had a shuttle mission prior to going into space station training, I knew the environment, and I could plan what I needed to make my stay enjoyable.
Womenetics: How did you handle working with people from different countries and cultures for your ISS mission?
Magnus: I enjoy working with people from different cultures and countries and count myself fortunate that I have been able to do so. One of my first jobs in the astronaut office, before I received my first flight assignment, had me working with the Europeans and the Japanese on the design of science facilities for ISS, and after that I spent tons of time in Russia working with them to get the first few modules of the ISS ready to launch. I find that I learn a lot when I have to put myself in someone else’s shoes and figure out where they are coming from.
Womenetics: Do you envision NASA creating a new space-flight program in the near future?
Magnus: Well, we have a healthy human space flight program right now with our continuing flights and efforts on board the ISS. In addition, we have two new programs that are in work. One is aimed at helping private industry develop a “commercial” space capability. There are four companies competing to develop space vehicles capable of delivering astronauts to the ISS. NASA would contract with them for this service. This is a bit different than how we have done business in the past where we, as an agency, were intimately involved in designing the vehicle. These companies believe that with the leg up from the government that they gain by having us as a guaranteed customer, they could expand their business and a commercial market involving other customers would develop.
The second program in work is one where we, NASA, are developing, in the more traditional model, a new vehicle and launch capability that would allow us to send people out of low Earth orbit (where the ISS is located). With the heavy-lift rocket and a new, capsule-like, vehicle, we are preparing to send explorers to the moon, Mars, or beyond – perhaps to an asteroid. The exact destination is currently under debate, but no matter the answer, we need the proper tools to take the next step into our solar system.
Womenetics: What is your favorite part of your job, and why?
Magnus: Well, I would have to say being in space, of course. It is such an amazing place to live, and we are doing so many interesting things up there that it is a very special place to be. The other part of my job I like I mentioned already, and that is being able to learn new things every day.
Womenetics: What is the biggest obstacle you've overcome in your journey to work with NASA?
Magnus: I cannot really say. I don’t look at things in terms of obstacles, really, but rather as challenges. I have been fortunate in the fact that my parents and family were always very supportive of my goals. I guess it is just a matter of staying focused and working hard. I was the only female in my group at McDonnell Douglas, but never felt that I was at a disadvantage, for example. I have benefited greatly from the women in science and engineering who went before me and thus smoothed out my path. I remember being really thrilled when I came to NASA and got to meet Shannon Lucid, a really great lady, who was in the first class of female astronauts selected in 1978. She and the others helped plow the path for me and my generation.
Womenetics: In your opinion, what is the biggest impact of the shuttle program, or the space program in general?
Magnus: Well, speaking in terms of the shuttle program, I would have to say it is the construction of the International Space Station. It took 10 years and more than 30 flights, but because of the lifting power and capacity of the shuttle, we have this wonderful asset on orbit where we are doing great science and engineering and technology development. The space shuttle also really opened up the number of opportunities for people to fly in space; astronauts were no longer restricted to test pilots. The space program, in general, impacts our lives all of the time and we don’t realize it.
Many of the technologies that we need to develop for space flight have transitioned over to technologies that are used in many different areas on Earth. The field of medicine has been one of the largest beneficiaries, with the necessary miniaturization of equipment and the development of procedures for telemedicine and remote, field uses. Materials developed for the space program, materials that need to be both strong and light, show up in such common applications as lightweight golf club, bikes, and parts of automobiles. The UV coating on sunglasses was developed for the visors of our space-walking suits. The list is endless. This happens because NASA is really an economic engine for research and development in a way that private companies, who have to be focused on short-term profits and results, cannot accomplish. We are a government organization, we work for the long term, and there is a need for this kind of capability for our country. We are, literally, an investment in the future.
Womenetics: What advice would you give to up-and-coming women who are interested in the space program?
Magnus: Come join us. We are doing and are going to continue to do great things here at NASA. Get a strong, well-grounded education in an engineering, science, or technology field, and come help us build tomorrow’s space vehicles.
Womenetics: Tell us about your family. How do they feel about your career with NASA?
Magnus: As I mentioned before, my family has always been very supportive, and I really appreciate it a lot. It is hard to watch someone you love strap themselves to a rocket and blast off the surface of the Earth. I accepted the risk when I took the job because it is something that I believe in. They more or less had to accept the risk because I did, and they had no control over it – this is a hard situation to be in. So I don’t take their support for granted.
Womenetics: What do you like to do to unwind?
Magnus: I like to run and exercise. I also like to read, cook, and bake.
Based near Atlanta, Shala Hainer has been writing and copyediting since 1995. Beginning her career at newspapers such as the Marietta Daily Journal and the Atlanta Business Chronicle, she most recently wrote and edited articles for several nonprofit organizations before purchasing a flower shop in 2006. She earned a bachelor’s in communications from Jacksonville State University.