Astronaut

pics and words t. smugala While working on the space museum story, I was given the opportunity to meet with one of the astronauts who will attend the opening of the Grissom Center. I had no idea we had an astronaut from the area—apparently, I don’t get out much. She is a fascinating person and our kind of people. It wasn’t an easy journey for her, but she followed her dream and made it into space and not just once. Meet Dr. Linda Godwin, the astronaut from the 573.

Linda M. Godwin, Ph.D. is a native of Jackson, Missouri. She received a B. S. degree in Mathematics and Physics from Southeast Missouri State University, and an M. S. and Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Missouri where her research was in low temperature condensed matter physics.

Dr. Godwin joined NASA, at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, in 1980, working in Payload Operations. In this role, she supported the development and integration of science missions for the early Space Shuttle Program and served as a flight controller and payloads officer in the ground Mission Control Center for several flights before being selected as an astronaut candidate in 1985. She went on to complete four shuttle missions logging in over 915 hours in space. Tell me that’s not amazing.

Currently, she is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Missouri, in Columbia, where she teaches physics and astronomy classes and works with students in undergraduate research in astrophysics.

573: Tell us about your journey to space.

I was interested in the early space program and watched all that TV coverage. I liked math, science and reading (always a good influence on our imaginations). While I was completing my Ph.D. at the University of Missouri in physics, NASA announced they were hiring astronauts for the upcoming space shuttle program. My educational background made me eligible to apply, and I also became interested in working on getting a pilot’s license as I thought that would be helpful, plus I had always wanted to do that. I got my license and flew at a small airport near Columbia called Cottonwood Field. It doesn’t exist anymore. I learned that continuing to try is important because I didn’t initially get into the program. I did get an interview with NASA my last year in graduate school, and while I was not selected for the astronaut program they offered me a job which I accepted, and I moved to Houston, TX to work at JSC. I worked in Payload Operations in the Mission Operations Directorate at the NASA Johnson Space Center and was accepted into the astronaut program in 1985. The answer to this question can take an entire presentation/talk. Briefly: There is an initial training period, training in spacewalks, robotics, shuttle systems, flight dynamics, waiting to be assigned to a crew, supporting other missions and programs. Over my time in the office, I was assigned to four shuttle missions. Each required unique training and all were different: a deployment of Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and other science, an earth-focused observation mission with studies of the atmosphere and an imaging radar for surface investigations, a visit to the Russian Mir space station with a special laboratory carried in the shuttle cargo bay with a suite of European Space Agency experiments, and my last flight was to the International Space Station, not yet complete with everything that is there now, where we brought up a new crew and brought home the crew that was there. We brought up a module with supplies for the station and repacked it with things they no longer needed or science that was being returned. I had a spacewalk on each of the last two missions.

573: Tell us about your first blast off.

Liftoff is very impressive with over 7 million pounds of thrust which were generated by the solid rocket boosters, part of the shuttle system, and main engines on the shuttle. Powered flight to orbit lasted 8 ½ minutes. At that point the shuttle was not yet in a safe orbit, but we were high enough to be above most of the atmosphere (about 250 miles) and following an additional firing of the main engines, going fast enough, just under 5 miles a second) to stay in orbit and not fall back to Earth. The orbit speed required at that altitude results in orbital periods of about 90 minutes. We orbited the Earth 16 times day, where we had 16 sunrises and sunsets a day. The Earth filled our view out the windows, and that is one of the best memories – seeing the oceans, coastlines, deserts. That perspective makes all of the Earth and the people on it seem very connected to each other – or they should be. We live on a beautiful oasis in our solar system and perhaps within our galaxy. It is the only planet we will ever have, and we need to take care of it.

573: What advice do you have for all the young women and girls looking to follow a dream?

They need to believe in themselves and their abilities. Everyone has some failures, and often may not succeed the first time (multiple attempts for me to get into the astronaut program), but it is worth trying again. It is essential to have confidence in themselves and have supporting friends and family. Also, one can enjoy what they are doing while working toward a goal.

573: I can’t help to ask… Do you believe in UFO’S?  Did we really go to the Moon?

UFO’s – no. I believe there is life in the universe, likely other places in our own galaxy or certainly somewhere in the billions of other galaxies within our universe, each with billions of stars with planets of their own. The conditions for life could be very very rare, but even then there could be billions of other life-supporting planets across our universe. I don’t think we will ever know.

The chance that any other life has traveled to our part of our galaxy is about zero or is zero. Stars are just too far apart. Within our own spiral Milky Way galaxy, our solar system is ½ to 2/3 from the galactic center in the galactic disk with the closest star about four light-years away.

With any kind of regular rocket ship travel of today, it would take thousands of years to travel just to this nearest star system. We don’t have propulsion for higher rates of speed – there is matter/anti-matter propulsion of which not enough anti-matter exists, a constant thrust which could build up a high rate of speed but requires amounts of matter for propulsion which are not available.

We went to the Moon.

You can meet Dr. Godwin at the grand opening of the Grissom Space Center this March.

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