On July 27, 2011, NASA astronaut and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego alumna Megan McArthur chatted live from NASA headquarters in Houston, Texas, with a room full of inquisitive teenagers gathered on the Scripps campus in La Jolla, Calif.
The video lecture and Q&A session were part of a three-week summer course for San Diego and Los Angeles area high school students called “Focus on the Future” that aims to engage underrepresented students in Scripps science.
McArthur, who received her Scripps Ph.D. in oceanography in 2002, was an astronaut aboard Atlantis, the space shuttle that visited the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009 for an 11-day repair mission. Utilizing her engineering background, McArthur operated the shuttle’s robotic arm that grabbed and released the telescope, making her the last person ever to “touch” the telescope. McArthur is now one of only a few dozen astronauts remaining with NASA since America’s space shuttle program ended last month.
Back on Earth during the videoconference, McArthur spoke about a career path that landed her at NASA at age 28, while she was still a graduate student at Scripps Oceanography. She also described the logistics of living and working in close quarters at zero gravity and showed captivating home movies from spaceflight.
Their imaginations captured, the students followed-up with questions for McArthur ranging from “What’s more mysterious, the oceans or space?” and “Is the space shuttle program over forever?” to “When were you the most scared?” and “What does space food taste like?”
According to McArthur, the oceans and space are equally mysterious and peanut M&Ms are the perfect space snack.