A Change of Scenery

It was August.  It was hot.  I was sweating when I took the proverbial “hot seat” on August 28, 1977 – almost exactly 42 years ago.

South Texas

Earlier that year, I had learned that – at last! – NASA had opened the applications for the Astronaut Corps to women.  I’d requested, received and filled out an application.  Unexpectedly, I was invited to the Johnson Space Center near Houston to learn about the job and to be interviewed by the Astronaut Selection Board.

No one had told me about August weather in south Texas.

It was nearly 100 degrees when our group of 20 life scientists, the third group of interviewees (and the first to include women), arrived on Sunday.   That evening we listened to a briefing about our activities for the week.  Beginning the next morning, we would undergo physical and psychological exams and learn about the plans for the Space Shuttle and the role Astronauts would play.   Most importantly we would each be interviewed.

Selection Essay

When handed a print-out of my schedule, I noted with dismay that my interview would be at 10 AM the next morning.  That meant I would not have the benefit of knowing more about the job I was applying for or what others could divulge about their interviews.  I was told to bring a short, written essay about why I wanted to be an Astronaut.  There was no stationery in my hotel room but I found a few blank pages in the back of my Day Timer notebook.  I did my best.  At least my handwriting was legible for a doctor.

Arriving at the appointed time, I was ushered in to a conference room to meet the dozen or so Astronaut Selection Board members.  There was only one woman.  During introductions I recognized a few of the names.  Astronauts, I thought.  Although, I had followed the space program as closely as I could (as many of us did,) I was in the midst of medical school and residency so I only remembered the highlights.

Selection Program

Sitting before this group who would determine my future, I was aware of the fact that I felt sweaty – was it the heat from the ride over or nervousness? What questions would they ask and what were the right answers?  What would they think of my essay? The questioners seemed to be cool as cucumbers and joking among themselves.  I felt very small – and wilted.

All I could do was be myself and answer honestly.  As with other opportunities in my life, I figured I needed to do what preparation I could; then toss my hat in the ring and have faith that God would sort it out.  I did and He did.

First Official Photo

Four months later I learned I had gotten the job. Being interviewed early that Monday morning meant I was the first woman to be interviewed for the Astronaut Corps. 

That visit to Houston taught me not only what Astronauts do, but one thing we’d all have to endure for years to come – the hellish heat of south Texas.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. It was my goal growing up to be the first female Space Shuttle pilot. I worked and worked but that just wasn’t in the stars for me.
    I wish I could have spent more time visiting with you at Spacefest and hearing more about those early days of your career. (Of course I have been a fan of yours all throughout your career!)
    But hey! It was fun comparing our astronaut rings and trying one another’s on.

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