UT alumna inspires next generation of astronauts

Iann Karamali

Astronaut and UT alumna Stephanie Wilson addressed students of all ages Thursday for UT’s International Space Station day.

Wilson, who received her masters degree in aerospace engineering from UT in 1992, gave aspiring astronauts career advice and talked about her experiences aboard the International Space Station.

“I joined NASA in 1996 with 43 other candidates in NASA’s largest class to date,” Wilson said. “I flew on the shuttle Discovery three times to the (International Space Station) to deliver payloads, in 2006, 2007 and 2010.”

Wilson has logged more than 42 days in space and contributed significantly to assembling the (International Space Station), which orbits 250 miles above Earth. In her presentation, Wilson said the training astronauts go through is rigorous, with mandatory survival training and physical endurance tests.

The event also featured speakers from NASA and the International Space Station. Lab personnel Etop Esen and Pete Hasbrook said astronauts often conduct many research projects aboard the International Space Station. Esen said facilities inside and outside the space station allow astronauts to perform experiments in almost every field of science.

 



Experiments conducted in space have concrete benefits for humans, such as improving vehicles’ tires, improving the effectiveness of medicines and making cosmetic products cheaper, Esen said.

“There can be up to 300 experiments on board the space station at any given time,” Hasbrook said. “Even though you think we’ve already studied humans in space, what we’re really looking to do is apply all of that science to benefit us here on Earth.”

Wilson said her colleagues had interesting experiments on board, one of which was growing plants in space.

“We can see some greenery from our view above the Earth, but (what) we really like to see is plants in space,” Wilson said. “This kind of research is really important as we look towards the future of space exploration and maintaining our food.” 

Mechanical engineering sophomore Andres Najera said he was inspired by the lectures to pursue a career as an astronaut.

“Getting my questions answered gave me the motivation to follow, what I believe to be, a challenging path,” Najera said. “Saying I learned something today is a big understatement.”

Najera said he has always wanted to be an astronaut but thought it was far-fetched. 

“I was never really sure how realistic it was as an objective,” Najera said. “But now that I am exposed to different ideas, people and mentors, it’s less of an abstract idea.”