Astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger ’97 captivates with “gravitational pull” of wisdom
Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger ’97 came back down to earth on April 20, 2010 after a mission on the Space Shuttle Discovery, and made time to come back up to Walla Walla on Monday, March 28 to talk about her experience and the importance of space exploration. Students, professors and other community members gathered in Maxey Auditorium to hear her presentation, entitled “The Road from Walla Walla to Low Earth Orbit”.
“Space exploration is incredibly important,” she said. “We are on the trail of Lewis and Clark. They were sent out, went over budget, didn’t find the Northwest Passage and accomplish the main goal of their mission, yet here we are today [in the West] and we have expanded and learned more than we could have imagined.”
Hers was the penultimate trip on Discovery, which retired earlier this month. Metcalf-Lindenburger and two of her crewmates were the last rookie astronauts in the space shuttle program.
She said that she’d like to go back into space again if she gets the chance.
“I will stay with NASA for a while and keep taking Russian,” she said. “If I could launch again I’d really love it, but if not, my other plan is to go back to school and become a professor.”
During her presentation, Metcalf-Lindenburger answered audience members’ curiosities about space. One such question was about how well astronauts sleep in space.
“You sleep really well in space. You’re pretty relaxed because you don’t have a bed pressing upon your body,” she said. “We sleep with pillows, but I don’t even know why we do; maybe to remind us of home.”
She also showed the audience video of her time in space.
“Even adult astronauts play with their food,” she said jokingly as she shared clips of her crew eating M&M’s and cherry blossoms captured in blobs of water in zero-gravity. She also proudly announced that she and her crew were the first to eat sushi in space.
But perhaps most inspiring were the views from space. During her time in low orbit, the crew would see 45 minutes of day followed by 45 minutes of night, with plenty of opportunities to see lightning storms, city lights and sunrises.
“It was pretty awesome to come across the Northwest. I could see Crater Lake and then I could point out everything else from these. The Northwest looks pretty distinct [from space].”
The view was familiar territory for Metcalf-Lindenburger, who majored in geology at Whitman and later taught earth science classes at a high school in Vancouver, Wash.
She continues to teach kids, though not necessarily in the classroom. Prior to her lecture on Monday, Metcalf-Lindenburger was the keynote speaker for “Great Explorations: A Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Adventure for 5th through 8th Grade Girls” in Cordiner Hall on Saturday, March 26.
This is the second time Metcalf-Lindenburger has returned to Whitman to speak about her experience in space : she was also the Baccalaureate speaker on May 22, 2010. But to Professor of Geology Bob Carson, her adviser at Whitman, that sounds like the Dottie he knows.
“As an astronaut, part of her job is educating the public, and she likes to do her job well,” he said. “She is just so eager to make people happy and to inspire people. Astronauts are so magical, and Dottie is captivating all on her own.”