How Not To Drown

How Not To Drown

The most challenging thing I had to do after I became an astronaut was to become SCUBA qualified.  Why would astronauts need to do that?  If I was ever tasked with doing a spacewalk (called an EVA, or Extravehicular Activity), I’d have to train for it in the huge water tank at the Johnson Space Center.  The spacesuits used were specially made for practicing tasks in the water and were extremely heavy – too heavy and bulky to swim to the...

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An Amazing Astronaut

An Amazing Astronaut

What was the world’s impression of the original Astronauts of the ’50s and ’60s? Heroes, experienced jet pilots, brave test pilots: all macho men. Would you believe, when I met him in 1978, one of these macho men was a kindly soul tapping into his creative side? In the mid-1970s, NASA decided to take a new group of Astronauts who would fly aboard its new vehicle, the Space Shuttle. Crews of up to seven would include pilots,...

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May I Borrow The Jet?

May I Borrow The Jet?

Remember when you were young and you asked to borrow your parents’ car for a date?  What if you could borrow something faster? Say… a jet?  When I became an astronaut, non-pilot Mission Specialists (MSs) had to learn to fly in the backseat of NASA’s T-38 jets. We had instruction in the communication and navigation systems followed by training in doing the actual flying. The T-38s were slick little planes. They could speed around at 700...

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Top Secret

Top Secret

Before we became Astronauts, NASA wanted to make sure we didn’t have a shady past. The application paperwork was extensive. If we were invited for an interview, we had a background check. When I returned from my week-long job interview at the Johnson Space Center, a neighbor came to see me. “Did you do something wrong?” he asked. “Some guy with an FBI badge came around asking questions about you.  He wanted to know whether you hung out with...

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Setting A Good Example

Setting A Good Example

Have you ever had the feeling that you were being watched?  I grew up that way. When you live in a small town where your family has lived for generations, everyone knows your pedigree and knows who you are.  Do something wrong and your momma, grandmamma, and great-grandmamma are sure to find out.  It tends to keep you out of trouble. I was shy and quiet when I entered high school.  Then, I was selected to be a cheerleader, and I was expected to...

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Working With PJs

Working With PJs

Among my most interesting jobs at NASA was one of my first important ones.  The first Space Shuttle launch was scheduled for the spring of 1981.  My class of “Thirty Five New Guys” who had joined the Astronaut Corps in 1978 hoped we’d get to play a role in that exciting upcoming event. Director of Flight Crew Operations George Abbey called me to his office in 1980 with a request: “Rhea, do you think you could work on the search and rescue...

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