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The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Astronaut Sandra Magnus Relives Last Space Shuttle Mission, Encourages the Next Generation of Space Explorers at St. Louis Science Center

By Carmelo Turdo
Astronaut Dr. Sandra Magnus spoke to a hometown audience Saturday at the St. Louis Science Center during SciFest 2011 International Science Festival.  Dr. Magnus graduated from nearby Belleville High School and received her a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla in 1986 and 1990, respectively, and a doctorate from the School of Material Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1996.  She worked for McDonnell Douglas Corporation on the A-12 Stealth project, completed a NASA Fellowship and was selected as an astronaut mission specialist in 1996.  Dr. Magnus flew on STS-112 in 2002, ISS Expedition 18 in 2008 and the last Space Shuttle mission - STS-135 in 2011.

Dr. Sandra Magnus is welcomed to SciFest St. Louis  
 Dr. Magnus  began her exciting presentation with a video and brilliant slides of her flight aboard STS-135, the final Space Shuttle mission to resupply the ISS, or International Space Station, occupied by six crew members.  She humbly, yet confidently, recounted the flight as one of only four crew members tasked to perform a "job of six people" on that crucial last mission.  The crew transferred 10,000 pounds of supplies from a pod inside the Shuttle's cargo bay, and loaded 6,000 pounds back into the pod for the return trip back to earth.  A space walk was used to bring back a failed ammonia cooling pump module for evaluation.  During the mission, Dr. Magnus and the Shuttle crew spent a few spare moments with the ISS crew, and took spectacular photos of the earth.   

As the presentation continued, Dr. Magnus praised the Space Shuttle as a vehicle well-designed to carry out the tasks assigned to it - perform work in low earth orbit such as launching, repairing and retrieving spacecraft, carrying out science experiments, building and supplying the ISS and developing an experienced corps of mission specialist astronauts to carry out future long-term objectives in space.  However, after the Columbia accident, the investigation board concluded that 2010 would be the deadline for either overhauling the remaining fleet of Shuttles or retiring the Shuttles in preparation for new vehicle development.  NASA's new vision for human space flight includes the use of privately-contracted space "taxis" to the ISS and an effort to develop a heavy-lift vehicle rivalling the Saturn V used for the moon landings for beyond earth orbit missions.  In the mean time, crew members from all participating nations will have to be launched on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS.

As for her path to becoming an astronaut, Dr. Magnus related that her interest in math and science in middle school drove her to explore the educational requirements to become an astronaut.  "I didn't want to look back on my life and think, 'What if...'"  She continued, "Figure out what you want to do, don't sell yourself short, go for it, see what happens, make a plan, but be flexible enough to adjust it (the plan) as you learn new things, and then you're having a lot of fun on your journey getting to where you want to go."  Great advice!

SciFest 2011 at the St. Louis Science Center continues through this weekend.  For the full schedule, please visit  Here are a few more scenes from SciFest 2011:

(St. Louis Science Center graphic)

St. Louis Science Center Forest Park Entrance
James S. McDonnell Planetarium
Anna Green, Challenger Learning Center Flight Director, talks to students
Mercury Spacecraft No. 19, Sigma 7 backup capsule, on display

Gemini Spacecraft 3A test vehicle on display
Special thanks to Maria Totoraitis, Al Wiman and Dr. Sandra Magnus for their special assistance to The Aero Experience during the event! 

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