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Thursday, August 18, 2022

Campus

Astronaut lands on University grounds


Astronaut Shannon Walker received a physics degree from Rice University and began her professional career at NASA as a robotics flight controller for the space shuttle program. | Yulia Kutsenkova/The Daily Cougar

NASA’s first Houston-born astronaut to launch, Shannon Walker, presented a keepsake to the College of Natural Science and Mathematics on Tuesday in the auditorium of the Science and Engineering building and talked about her space journey on the Soyuz, a Russian spacecraft.

Walker — the daughter of founding dean of UH’s NSM department, Hugh Walker –– began her presentation titled “Long Duration Space Flight, Preparing For and Living on the International Space Station” with a salute to her father.

Students, staff and visitors applauded as Walker held up a poster of her father, which flew 118 million miles around Earth.

Walker’s team, comprised of three Russians and three Americans, spent three years in training before the launch.

Their time in space is described as one of experimental research, housework and aweing at the earth from above.

“We did a lot of experiments like watching bubbles move in liquids,” Walker said. “Yes, it was a lot like watching grass grow, but it was very important to the scientists on the ground, so we did that.”

Along with conducting daily research from watching bubbles to growing plants, Walker says she spent a great deal of time just gazing at the earth below.

“When we were not doing science, we spent a lot of time looking out the window. It’s gorgeous. I cannot even begin to describe how beautiful the colors of the earth are. The colors are so rich and so deep,” Walker said.

“Earth at night was pretty impressive too,” she said, showing a picture of the Nile River.

Aboard the space station and without the luxury of gravity, however, things can go from pretty to not so pretty.

Showering, sleeping, eating and using the restroom are no longer simple tasks, she said.

“Never underestimate the role gravity plays in going to the restroom,” said Walker. “We do not have a shower. We do not have running water. You have dry shampoo like they use in hospitals and they claim it’s no rinse — don’t believe it.

“Another thing is there’s no blow-dryer. At this point, you’re just space beautiful.”

Two of the mandatory routines aboard the space station were housework and exercise. Physical fitness is a necessary part of staying healthy and strong in an environment with no gravity.

The housework or cleaning up of the spacecraft and space station was also vital, said Walker.

“We use resistance exercises. Every day for about 2.5 hours, we are scheduled to exercise,” Walker said. “And you can never escape housework, not even in space.”

After five and a half months in space on the Soyuz, Walker and the rest of the team headed back to earth.

Upon landing, Walker experienced what she described as the “scariest” part of the trip.

“We had a leak in our capsule (while) coming in, so the pressure alarms were going off,” said Walker. “It was kind of scary at first. It’s my job to monitor that stuff but I could tell by the leak rate that it wasn’t that bad and it would be fine.”

In the week following her return, Walker noted the struggles of adjusting to a world with gravity again.

“Your inner ear is usually confused. It makes you dizzy, and it’s hard to walk a straight line for a while. I was back a week, and I walked into a wall,” Walker said.

“But am I going back? I sure hope so. I imagine in another couple of years.”

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