Dreaming of Flying
As a young girl, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper (Hye'-dee Steph-uh-nih'-shun Pye'-pur) dreamed of flying. "I remember when I was 4 years old going and flying in an airplane, and I thought that that was the neatest thing," she said. "So I've always had this bug in the back of me that says 'I really want to fly, I really want to fly.'"
Image to left: The STS-115 crew has spent years preparing for their mission. Credit: NASA
Her hopes of becoming a pilot ended, though, when she couldn't pass an eye exam. But Stefanyshyn-Piper is about to get an incredible chance to fly higher than she ever dreamed -- she's a member of the STS-115 crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
"I consider myself very, very fortunate," she said. "Now I get my dream of not only flying -- because I get to fly in space -- but also being able to help build the space station."
Stefanyshyn-Piper is an example of what can be accomplished when a person applies herself and works hard. When she was a child, her parents stressed the importance of a good education and instilled a love of learning that stayed with her. After high school, she went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.
"I had so much fun at MIT, I decided to stay an extra year and finish my master's degree," she said.
School was not the only experience that helped prepare Stefanyshyn-Piper to fly. Growing up in St. Paul, Minn., she was involved in a Ukrainian scouting organization called Plast. She really enjoyed being a part of the group, and learned a lot from it.
"The part of scouting that I enjoyed most was summer camps," she said. "It was fun to be away from home and at camp. I liked living in a cabin or a tent, learning to paddle a canoe and hike in the woods. I also enjoyed going to jamborees, where I met other scouts from not only across the USA, but also from other countries."
Her time as a scout played an important role in preparing her for the future.
"My scouting experiences did lay the ground work for my astronaut career," she said. "Before becoming an astronaut, I was in the Navy. In scouts I had learned orienteering, map reading and camping skills, which were helpful in the military. My military career is what helped me become an astronaut.
"The biggest part of scouting that I use as an astronaut is being part of a team. In scouting, you learn to work as a team to accomplish a goal," she said. "As an astronaut, you are a small part of a very large team to put people in space."
As a member of the STS-115 crew, Stefanyshyn-Piper will be part of a team that will install new solar panels and their supporting truss beam on the International Space Station. The new additions will allow the space station to generate more electrical power. That power will support new modules that will be added to the space station in the future.
During the mission, Stefanyshyn-Piper is scheduled to go on two spacewalks to install the new pieces on the station. On the first spacewalk, she'll remove some bolts, making it possible to deploy the solar arrays. On her second, she'll help deploy a radiator panel on the truss. The radiator is used to keep the space station cool, allowing excess heat to radiate into space.
Image to right: The STS-115 crew is scheduled to perform three spacewalks to install a new element on the space station. Credit: NASA
The STS-115 mission resumes the assembly of the International Space Station. This important step in the Vision for Space Exploration will lead to humans returning to the moon and then venturing onward to Mars and beyond. Stefanyshyn-Piper said she is excited to be a part of this effort.
"We, as humans, always want to know what’s out there," she said. "To me, it just seems natural that we've looked around here and we're just going to go look out farther. Exploration makes sense because we're always looking at what's the next thing out there -- what else can we learn, and how can we go there. Maybe we can learn something that we can bring back here and help solve some of the problems we have on Earth."
David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services