The last space shuttle flight ever is scheduled to launch July 8, and a Missouri S&T grad is an important part of the mission. “It will only take about 8.5 minutes to get into our initial orbit,” says NASA Astronaut Sandra Magnus. “But it’s an exciting 8.5 minutes!”
Magnus and three other astronauts will be aboard Atlantis for the historic flight. They will be the final four astronauts to orbit in a space shuttle. The mission is scheduled to last 12 days. Magnus and the other astronauts will deliver supplies to the International Space Station and test new methods for recycling used water, among other things.
At S&T, where she played soccer, Magnus earned a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1986 and a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1990. She also holds a doctorate from Georgia Tech.
Magnus was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1996. She flew her first mission in 2002. A native of Belleville, Ill., she recently told the local newspaper: “Atlantis was the first one I ever flew on, and now it will be my last mission as well. So it holds a special place in my heart.”
The other vehicles in NASA’s shuttle program, which is being discontinued after 30 years, have already been retired. The crew of the last mission is being limited to four people, instead of the usual six astronauts, because if something goes wrong, Russian crews will eventually have to bring them back to Earth from the ISS.
In 2008-2009, Magnus spent more than four months at the space station, traveling 50,304,000 miles. While living on the ISS, she blogged for a site called spacebook.mst.edu, which was hosted by Missouri S&T. In addition to addressing various issues about life in orbit, she answered questions posed by grade school kids on the blog. Among the issues that came up were:
— Showering in space
— How to drink coffee in space
— Zen and the art of space cooking
— Experimenting with fire.
Magnus is somewhat famous for her hair, which, when unencumbered, floats impressively in zero-gravity. During a 2009 phone call to the ISS, President Obama asked her if she had ever thought of getting it cut. When Magnus said no, Obama replied that it was “quite a fashion statement.”