There's a huge amount of pressure on every astronaut, because when you get right down to it, the experiments that are conducted on a space flight, or the satellites that are carried up, the work that's to be done, is important and expensive work, and you are up there for a week or two on a Space Shuttle flight. The country has invested a lot of money in you and your training, and the Space Shuttle and everything that's in it, and you have to do things correctly. You can't make a mistake during that week or two that you're in space.
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The most important steps that I followed were studying math and science in school. I was always interested in physics and astronomy and chemistry and I continued to study those subjects through high school and college on into graduate school. That's what prepared me for being an astronaut; it actually gave me the qualifications to be selected to be an astronaut.
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I never went into physics or the astronaut corps to become a role model. But after my first flight, it became clear to me that I was one. And I began to understand the importance of that to people. Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can't be what you can't see.
Everywhere I go I meet girls and boys who want to be astronauts and explore space, or they love the ocean and want to be oceanographers, or they love animals and want to be zoologists, or they love designing things and want to be engineers. I want to see those same stars in their eyes in 10 years and know they are on their way!
It was hard to become an astronaut. Not anywhere near as much physical training as people imagine, but a lot of mental training, a lot of learning. You have to learn everything there is to know about the Space Shuttle and everything you are going to be doing, and everything you need to know if something goes wrong, and then once you have learned it all, you have to practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice until everything is second nature, so it's a very, very difficult training, and it takes years.
Astronauts will remain the explorers, the pioneers-the first to go back to moon and on to Mars. But I think it's really important to make space space available to as many people as we can. It's going to be a while before we can launch people for less than $20 million a ticket. But that day is coming.
Eventually private enterprise will be able to send people into orbit, but I suspect initially it's going to have to be with NASA's help. Whether it's going to be a consortium or one entity remains to be seen. I could be wrong. I could be one of the old fogies! Rocket science is tough, and rockets have a way of failing. It happens. A company has to be willing to bear the risk of its rocket failing. It's a very large capital investment.
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The view of earth is spectacular from space. Most people imagine that when astronauts look out the window of the shuttle they see the whole earth like that big blue marble that was made famous by the flights that went to the moon. But the shuttle is much, much closer than those astronauts were. So we don't see the whole planet, the whole ball at once, we just see parts of it.
Anything from making a mistake on an experiment that would ruin some scientist on earth's experiment - career, potentially - to doing something wrong with the satellite that a country was depending on for its communications, to making some mistake that could actually cost you and the crew either a mission or your lives. So there is a lot of pressure that's put on every astronaut to just make sure that he or she understands exactly what to do, exactly when to do it, and is trained and prepared to carry it out.
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Suppose you came across a woman lying on the street with an elephant sitting on her chest. You notice she is short of breath. Shortness of breath can be a symptom of heart problems. In her case, the much more likely cause is the elephant on her chest. For a long time, society put obstacles in the way of women who wanted to enter the sciences. That is the elephant. Until the playing field has veen leveled and lingering stereotypes are gone, you can't even ask the question.
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