Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Visitor propels student interest

By Anna Guido
Enquirer contributor

What do astronauts do in their down time?

If you're Pamela Ann Melroy on a shuttle mission to the international space station, you look at the earth and marvel at its beauty.

[photo] NASA Astronaut Pamela Melroy speaks to students at the Seven Hills School Doherty Campus about her last mission in space as the pilot of the space shuttle Atlantis.
(Gary Landers photo)
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"In space, you're working most of the time," Ms. Melroy said. "But when I'm not working, I like looking at the Earth - it's really beautiful."

Ms. Melroy , 41, is a NASA astronaut, a U.S. Air Force colonel and one of the nation's first women to fly combat missions while serving in Desert Storm.

Ms. Melroy spoke to elementary students Tuesday morning at Seven Hills Doherty School in East Walnut Hills. Her visit to the private school of 225 students was the idea of fifth-grader Karl Holland, 10.

His science teacher, Doris Parsenios, had been trying to get an astronaut to come to the school for 15 years. In a recent class discussion on space exploration, Karl raised his hand and said, "My mom knows an astronaut - she lives in Houston."

Karl's mother - University of Cincinnati associate professor Christy K. Holland - is a friend of Ms. Melroy. Both are graduates of Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass.

"Typically, science education revolves around didactic lecture, rather than interactive learning," Dr. Holland said.

Name: Pamela Ann Melroy
Born: Sept.17, 1961, in Palo Alto, Calif.
Resides: Houston.
Family: Married to Christopher Wallace .
Title: NASA pilot astronaut; U.S. Air Force colonel.
Education: Bachelor's degree in physics and astronomy, Wellesley College, 1983; master's degree in earth and planetary sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1984.
Space experience: Selected by NASA as astronaut candidate in December 1994; qualified as shuttle pilot in 1996.
Having Ms. Melroy share her experiences in an intimate setting where students were able to engage in intellectual and light-hearted discussion, offered that forum.

Ms. Parsenios, who's been recognized by the American Chemical Society for her excellence in science education, said space exploration intrigues and stimulates her students.

"I find that I just can't answer their questions quickly enough," she said. "They're almost on fire about it, and having Ms. Melroy here makes it real for them."

Ms. Melroy, dressed in her flight suit Tuesday, showed slides and a shuttle mission video, before she opened the floor for questions:

Why does the space shuttle have to go so fast?

"It goes 17,500 miles per hour. It has to go that fast so it can stay in orbit and not fall back to earth.''

What challenges did you face as a woman becoming a pilot and an astronaut?

"People said I didn't look tough, I didn't look like a fighter pilot. I was really patient with those who doubted me, and I kept working at my goal. Maybe I didn't look like a pilot and an astronaut, but what matters is what's on the inside, not on the outside.''

What are the effects of long-term exposure to microgravity?

"Scientists today don't fully understand that. Fifty percent of the science that goes on at the international space station is about the human body. That's what the next generation of scientists will have to figure out.''

What's it like being so far from home?

"It feels a little bit lonely up there. When you look out the window, it's a little scary sometimes, but it also feels like a special magic place.''

Afterward, she talked about the need for U.S. schools to improve their science and math education, and for society to obliterate the stereotype that science and math are for "nerds."

"The message we need to get out is that science and math are cool," she said.

Seven Hills School for pre-K through 12th grades is on two campuses - the Doherty Campus on Johnstone Place and the Hillside Campus on Red Bank Road near Madisonville. Enrollment is 1,055.

More than 200 students in grades 2-5 from both campuses attended Tuesday's program.

Ms. Melroy was scheduled to speak later in the day to engineering students at the University of Cincinnati.


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