Final Results from NASA Astronaut Candidate Application 2009

Jul 3rd, 2009 | By | Category: Astro-Explorer, NASA, Space Exploration
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Dear family and friends,
As you know my journey to become a part of the 20th Astronaut class has come to an end. On June 22nd I received a call from Astronaut Sunita Williams. She was really nice as she informed me that I didn’t get selected and encouraged me to try again.

Sunita Williams
Me with Sunita Williams

Below I talk about the idea of being over 40 the next time NASA takes astronauts and how it will affect my chances. When I read Brian Shiro’s editorial on my web page I realized his impression of what I wrote and want to clarify my view. I believe that NASA takes the most qualified applicants regardless of age. My web page and words below help me to capture what I am thinking and feeling. I truly believe that age isn’t a barrier but medical issues could be as I go into my 40’s. My understanding is bone density is affected when women go into menopause. I believe that more women will be selected at 40+ as astronauts like Peggy Whitson and Sunita Williams, etc. move through the program and it is better understood how a woman’s body reacts to space travel with age. So as you read below don’t take it as gospel or read more into it. NASA has no age limit. Having your own web page opens you up to all kinds of interpretation and I am realizing that I need to be more carefully with my words and thoughts. Getting into NASA is about being the best you can possibly be and that’s what I will strive for regardless of my age.

Since finding out the news a lot of people have asked me if I will apply again. I heard a rumor (from another female candidate) that women in their 40’s don’t get selected and I decided to do a little investigation. When I looked at the current astronaut bios not a single women was selected in their 40’s. It appears as though the average age for a women to be selected is 33-34. For men it is 36-37. There have been men selected in the their 40’s but I could only find one female and that’s Barbara Morgan (she was originally Christa McAuliffe’s backup and reapplied to the astronaut program and was selected in 1998). When I look at the 9 newest astronaut candidates (http://www.nasa.gov/astronauts/ascans2009.html) all the women are younger than me. I imagine that osteoporosis is one reason why older women don’t get selected as often. But I’m not discouraged by these stats and even though I will be in my 40’s by the time the next call for astronauts comes I like to think that I will be even more prepared and a better candidate. I just hope health or bone density isn’t an issue. I still hold strong to the dream of teaching a full semester class from the ISS and having students around the world say, “I took my geology class from an astronaut in space and it was the best class I ever took.” If you too dream of becoming an astronaut hold on to it and don’t let it go. Although I fell short of my goal this time, I have had one of the best experiences of my life and I am optimistic about my future.

Below is my blog from my last interview. I didn’t post it at the time because I wasn’t, and I’m still not, sure having a blog is a good thing. I am amazed at how this process has made me question all aspects of who I am, what I do, and where I am going in my life. Does it help or hurt you when you make yourself public before getting your dream job? As stated earlier, what you say can be interpreted many way. So, I don’t know the answer to this but I have come to value my web page and the responses I have received from people all over the world. When I look back at my life I know that this digital archive will be very special to me. I hope you enjoy my last post about my NASA Astronaut Candidate experience and will come back and check out some of my new adventures as I move forward.

April 2009
I have recently returned from my week at Johnson Space Center (JSC) as an astronaut candidate finalist. I recognize that this event marks a pivotal point in my life and that what I say and document here will enable me to reflect weeks, months, years, and decades down the road. Regardless of the outcome, I have learned a lot about myself and the person I strive to become. I know that there are things I would do or say differently if given the chance (I think this is the case with almost all things in life) however, I am proud to say that I did my best and I think I represented who I truly am at this moment in my life. One of the last things my father said to me before passing away was to believe in God and the path my life will take. This experience has strengthened my faith and my understanding of myself. As I move forward, I have a clearer vision of the person I want to be and will eventually become with the help of my family, friends, and God. I want to thank all of you for your support along the way.

Some of the things we did are covered by confidentiality agreements. If you want more detail on what the overall process is like please see Brian Shiro’s blog http://brianshiro.blogspot.com/2009/03/astronaut-finalist-interview.html. My goal here is to give my own personal perspective on what this experience means to me and highlight some of the more memorable moments.

Six other individuals joined me at JSC for the week and we came from diverse backgrounds. There were two educators, two researchers, two pilots/military, and one doctor. Before we met we were in contact via e-mail and quickly became good friends. Two of the individuals were in my first interview group and it was great to see them again.

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I was nervous and excited about all the medical tests. It was a great way for me to learn about my body and, although I don’t know about the results yet, the information I have already gained was well worth the trip. This is an image of my brain. I am “Grossly Normal” whatever that means!

My Brain

The end of the week was highlighted by the colonoscopy prep and procedure. We had all already become good friends and, following the tradition of the previous interview groups, we got together to watch a video while taking our colon cleansing cocktails.

The worst part about the colonoscopy is definitely the previous day prep. What you can eat and drink is limited to clear liquids and chicken broth. However, you do get to eat 8 crackers during the day. I chose to crumple them up and add them to my chicken broth…Yummy! I don’t remember anything about the actual procedure. We had heard stories about people doing funny things after waking up. After my procedure, and when I became fully aware of my surroundings, I was sitting fully dressed in a chair with a few of the other group members next to me. I assumed I acted all normal and that I didn’t do anything funny or crazy. It wasn’t until later that day that I learned just the opposite. Christy, who was the last person in our group to undergo the procedure and got to see the rest of us in full swing, informed me that I should look at my video camera. As you know from my blog, I like to take pictures and videos. Somehow, while still under the medication, I managed to find my camera and convince the nurse to take video of me while still groggy. Below is the evidence. I have no memory of this video being taken. I debated about posting it, but it is really funny and I believe you gotta be able to laugh at yourself.

Some other highlights of the week were the tours and activities. I got a chance to act like superman. I also went on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL). The NBL is the largest indoor pool and it is where astronauts perform simulated extra-vehicular activities (EVA’s). Underwater there are mock-ups of the space shuttle cargo bay, international space station (ISS), and payloads (such as the Hubble telescope).

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The absolute highlight of the tours was Ellington Field and the T-38’s. The T-38 Talon is a supersonic jet used by NASA to train astronauts. One of the first things astronaut candidates do, who are not military pilots, is to learn to fly the T-38. I can only imagine what it would be like to sit in the back seat and to fly this awesome aircraft.

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In closing, this past year has been terrific. I put my application in about this time last year and I can’t believe the results. I am reminded of when I was kid talking to my dad about becoming an astronaut. He said with education I could achieve anything and he was right. I wonder what he’d say if he were here today.

NASA will announce the 2009 Astronaut Candidates sometime toward the end of May or beginning of June. After NASA makes the official announcement, I will post another blog regardless of how it turns out for me. Everyone I have met has been absolutely amazing and I don’t envy the job of the selection committee. I will be spending my summer at Goddard Space Flight Center doing research on honeybees http://honeybeenet.gsfc.nasa.gov/index.htm. I hope you’ll take a moment to check out the web page and learn about the struggle honeybees are currently encountering. As I proceed through my summer research I will blog about what I am doing and learning. Thanks again for taking the time to check out my site. Take care everyone! — Sian

8 comments
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  1. Your mom keeps me up to date on all your adventures, and she is so incredibly proud of you! So sorry to hear that NASA has missed out on the joy of working with you. Your optimism about the future is so commendable Sian, and I wish you the very best.

  2. What an amazing process that you went through, Sian. It is so cool to read your thoughts as you have them embedded here into your experiences along the way. You are such a tremendous individual – keep reaching for the ISS!

  3. Si,
    We are very proud of you. You never mentioned if they still drink TANG. I hope you try again. I can’t wait for my son to be able to ask me one day, “Dad, is that Uranus up there? No son, that’s just Sian.”
    Congrats on all that you have done.

  4. OMG! That hospital video is hilarious. I’m still LMAO! You’ve been holding out on us P-sian.

  5. Sian, thanks so much for sharing with all of us your experiences of going thru the selection process…I myself have wanted to be an astronaut, but at age 45+ would not have a chance at this date…you gave it your best shot, and set an example for the rest of us…may your colon remain free and clear for the coming years ! ;-) Burton Lee

  6. Hey Sian, Wow what an experience of a lifetime! I can hear Arnold saying, “She’ll Be Baaaaack!”

  7. Sian, you have been an inspiration to me from the moment that I arrived at South with your vision for your teaching and goals for your students. You continue to demonstrate these qualities with your commitment to helping others learn about the astronaut selection process. Wish you the best in your continued quest to “reach new worlds.”

  8. Thats ok Sian, NASA goes out to search the stars, not return them to the galaxy.

    Stephen,
    Forever a fan,

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