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Girl Scout Questions for Astronaut Suni Williams (on the ISS)
06.22.07
1. What did you gain from being a Girl Scout, and how did this help you get where you are now? (Harper, age 15; Texas)
Girl Scouting taught me great skills for camping and appreciating the outdoors. These are characteristics which were certainly helpful becoming an astronaut and are pertinent in my daily life living up here on the ISS. This may not seem obvious, but camping and living in challenging environments, appreciating all the conveniences of home taught me a lot about myself and the other folks I was experiencing this with. Likewise, living in an extreme and closed environment with only limited people is what we are doing on the Space Station. Understanding how to be a leader and a follower and to get along with people from other cultures and backgrounds is a key element to the goals of human exploration. The second characteristic I mentioned was an appreciation for the outdoors because we can use our vantage point from space to help identify how we can help maintain our environment. Without our atmosphere and our oceans we would not be here. I think it is our obligation as a species to protect it and leave it as we found it. Scouting taught us all an appreciation for that.

2. How does learning water and wilderness survival techniques help you in your space training? (Savina, age 14; Nigeria)
The space environment is a harsh environment. The best way we can simulate some of the conditions (other than micro-gravity) that astronauts will face in space is this type of survival training. Since working and living in space is prolonged isolation and confinement, a lot of the training is psychological. Astronauts learn stable performance under stress, acceptance of minimal “life comforts” and separation from family, coping with boredom, conflict resolution, good judgment and decision-making for example. This also helps train for the demanding physiological aspects of space that demand strength, endurance and flexibility to deal with any conditions that occur during a mission. In addition, astronauts receive some constellation recognition training for navigation.

3. Being a female, what sort of obstacles did you have to tackle going into this kind of profession? (Alanna, age 13; Wisconsin)
Interesting question because I try to never really think about it. I think if one concentrates on that issue, then it becomes an issue. Before I became an astronaut, I was a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Navy. That is also a male-dominated field. Before that I attended the U.S. Naval Academy which again has more men than women in attendance. However, I never really thought that being a woman or a man should matter in my success or failure in any of these capacities. I have always thought to myself, that the ship, the helicopter, the space suit, the spacecraft doesn’t know whether a woman or a man is controlling them so why does it matter. Of course there are folks who don’t see things that way and those folks can become obstacles. However, I never let that get in the way either. I think actions speak a lot louder than words. So, I just tried my best, did my best honestly and folks understand and respect that.

4. When you're in space looking down at the Earth, what does it make you feel? (Sarah, age 11; California)
It makes me smile! Different parts of the world have distinct characteristics. The U.S. of course we know so it brings familiar faces. South America, especially down south near the glaciers, looks very rugged and inviting. The land is chocolate brown. Europe is fun because we know what different land masses look like, Italy for example. The Middle East and the Sahara in Africa are pinkish from the vast sand. Wind erosion there is obvious. India and the Far East look mysterious to me because you can see there is a lot going on there. But really what I see is a very beautiful place, full of color. There are no borders that are really obvious. It makes me feel like all of us humans, no matter where we are from, what our backgrounds are, that we should be having fun together. I can’t imagine even a person arguing down there, not to mention fighting. I love looking at our planet. It is beautiful!

5. What’s it like to be outside the Space Station? (Canyea, age 9; Georgia)
Being on a space walk is really cool. Why? Because we train so much for them that I didn’t ever feel afraid. I felt like it was pretty natural to be out there first of all. Second, when I had some free time, I looked up and saw us flying over our planet. I looked further up and saw the vastness of space with the millions of stars crystal clear above me. I saw the northern lights shimmering and dancing green above the Earth’s surface. It was fascinating. From inside the Station one can see some of this, but it was all there just in front of my vision. It was spectacular and I really felt like I belonged there.

6. What work do you do on the space shuttle? Space Station? (Brie: Virginia)
My work has been mostly on the Space Station. I traveled on the Space Shuttle (mission STS [Space Transportation System]-116 to the Station). On the Station, I am a flight engineer. As a flight engineer we do everything from constructing the Space Station with space walks and robotic arm operations to science experiments on ourselves, materials, plants and ideas. We also maintain the Space Station. It is like a ship or a house. It has systems that have to be worked on. It has a toilet for example that has to be cleaned. It has filters that have to be cleaned. We talk to schools, we organize the stuff inside, and we use a barcode reader. We fix electrical equipment, computers and plumbing. There are a myriad of things we do while we are here. Every day is different!

7. What does your name stand for? Where were you born? (Ahaquavious, age 10; Georgia)
I was born in the U.S. My father is from India and my mother has Slovenian roots. My name is Indian and means well-behaved. I think that is what my parents were hoping for. I was a pretty good kid – but I didn’t always do things right or perfectly. I have made many mistakes in my life. However, I think one of my strong points is that I have learned lessons from those mistakes and have tried not to make the same mistake again. Actually, I think making mistakes and learning how to fail at something and then turning that around to make the best of a situation are probably the best lessons. Making mistakes is part of life and only makes you a better person if you learn something from it.

8. Does your appetite change (in space)? (Natalie; Virginia)
Yes, changes in taste (and other sensory perceptions) of food have routinely been reported by astronauts during space flight. The reported changes vary from not tasting the same to a complete dislike for a previously liked food or beverage. It is believed that these changes may be attributed to the physiological alterations that occur in microgravity. Fluid shifts to the upper torso cause a "stuffy head" feeling and Space Adaptation Syndrome (like motion sickness, but from space travel with symptoms which range from nausea and lightheadedness to vomiting). Also, convection currents are almost absent in space, which could change the levels for detection of some taste sensations.

9. Do you need math in college to become an astronaut? (Te’Amber; Georgia)
NASA astronauts must have at least a bachelor's degree in engineering, science, or mathematics. So, you will need to take lots of math and science classes such as advanced physics and calculus. Astronauts come from a variety of backgrounds. There are doctors, physicists, engineers, chemists, mathematicians, test pilots, and even a veterinarian in our office. We also have some teachers in the Astronaut Office. So, the fields are many and varied. I think if you find what you like best, you will naturally do well. I think the most important part about learning these subjects is to understand problem solving. When you are up in space in a spacecraft, there are only a few of you there. You need to communicate with the ground team problems you have and help find ways to solve them.

10. Is it noisy on the space station? (Rochana, age 15; Georgia)
Sort of. It is a machine that has pumps, fans, motors, gyros, etc., moving and spinning. These things make noise. We try to make them as quiet as possible since we are working around them every day. We have added mufflers to most of the equipment and our sleep stations have sound proofing. It is noisy, but not too bad.