In October 2008, Space Shuttle Atlantis launched for the last shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. Aboard the shuttle, was Mission Specialist K. Megan McArthur. McArthur earned her bachelor’s degree at UCLA in aerospace engineering. Following graduation, she earned her PhD from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Her graduate research was in nearshore underwater acoustic propagation and digital signal processing.
McArthur joined NASA in 2000 and has worked in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory, as well as the Space Station and Space Shuttle Mission Control Centers as a Capsule Communicator. STS-125 was her first space flight.
Prior to her mission, UCLA Engineer Magazine spoke with her.
How did your interest in space start?
My dad was a career Naval Aviator, so I was always around airplanes growing up. As a teenager, we lived at Moffett Field Naval Air Station, which is on the same base as NASA’s Ames Research Center. I used to see astronauts flying in to do their training in one of the simulators there, and that is when I first started to think seriously about a career in aerospace. I knew that becoming an astronaut was a long shot, but I wanted to study aerospace engineering and pursue a career with NASA in some capacity.
Did you have an experience at UCLA Engineering that you think helped you on your career to becoming an astronaut?
One of my good friends in Aerospace Engineering, Derek Leek, was going to be a Navy Submarine Officer after graduation. He read about a competition called the Human Powered Submarine Races, and put together a small team of aero engineers to compete. With the support of the engineering school, we designed, built, and raced a two-person flooded submersible at the International Submarine Races in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The experience of designing, building, and operating real hardware was a crucial part of my education.
What will your specific tasks on the mission be?
I am Mission Specialist #2 for this flight, which means I am the Flight Deck Engineer during the launch and entry of the space shuttle. I help the Shuttle Commander and Pilot monitor the Shuttle systems and I direct activities on
the flight deck during any malfunctions. I also assist during the rendezvous with the Hubble Space Telescope, and I operate the Shuttle’s robotic arm to capture the telescope and berth it in the Shuttle’s payload bay. During the spacewalks, I will operate the robotic arm to move crew and equipment in and around the telescope.
What are you most looking forward to during your space flight?
I am looking forward to the moment just after I capture the Hubble Space Telescope! I am looking forward to celebrating with my crewmates after the successful completion of five spacewalks. I am also looking forward to any
free time that I can use to look at our beautiful blue planet going by below.
What advice could you give engineering students who are considering careers in space exploration?
When I was between my junior and senior year at UCLA, I had the opportunity to meet astronaut Kathy Sullivan, and I think she gave me very good advice on that topic. She told me that rather than trying to choose a career path based on what I thought NASA might be looking for, I should focus on finding something I loved to do, and then work to excel at it. She pointed out that getting selected as an astronaut is a real long shot, so you should choose something you’d like to do as a career even if you never get selected. And of course, it is hard to really excel at something if you don’t love it!
For information on STS 125: www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/shuttlemissions/hst_sm4/