This spring, when the space shuttle Atlantis launches on its final repair mission to the aging Hubble Space Telescope, a former San Diegan will be among its seven-member astronaut crew.
First-time flyer Megan McArthur received her PhD from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in 2002. McArthur, a NASA Mission Specialist 2 (also known as Shuttle Engineer), will sit behind the commander and pilot during ascent, ready to assist if anything goes wrong in the cockpit. During the on-orbit phase of the flight, she’ll operate the shuttle’s robotic arm, which she’ll use to position the spacewalkers doing the important repairs.
The challenges of the mission are daunting: The Hubble orbits 350 miles above the earth, and the shuttle’s risk of suffering a hit from micrometeorites or debris is 1-in-185. But McArthur says fear is the last thing on her mind.
“Scared isn’t the right word. I’m very excited. I think what you’d hear from most astronauts is that you just want to do your job well. You don’t want to let down the team. If you spend time thinking about anything, it’s that you don’t want to screw up.”
Though McArthur is well prepared for every possible scenario, the one thing she can’t predict is the emotional impact of traveling to space.
“You are working so much — your days are so packed with stuff to do — that you really have to remind yourself to stop and say, ‘You know what, I’m going to look out the window for a couple of minutes and think about where I am.’ I’m looking forward to that.” ANNAMARIA STEPHENS