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A Dream Come True
February 24, 2008
Who are NASA's Earth and Space Science Explorers?

The middle school students who track weather to study its effect on bursting tree buds. And the scientist studying black holes in distant galaxies. But also the teacher whose class shares Earth science data with students around the world. And the engineer who designs robotic instruments to probe hard-to-reach planets. All of these people are Earth Explorers, Space Science Explorers or both. The Earth Explorers and Space Science Explorers series features NASA explorers, young and old, with many backgrounds and interests.

Lucy McFadden

Dr. Lucy McFadden spent six weeks in Antarctica hunting for meteorites. Image Credit: NASA

Lucy McFadden is a scientist with NASA's Dawn mission. Dawn is a spacecraft on its way to study asteroids. Asteroids are rocky objects in space. Small pieces of asteroids that have fallen to Earth are called meteorites. McFadden talks about her experiences below.

Antarctica is one of the world's seven continents. A continent is a large area of land, such as North America. Antarctica sits over the South Pole and is covered by ice. It is a good place to find meteorites.

Meteorites are rocks that have fallen to Earth from space. These rocks can tell us about the early days of the solar system. Most meteorites are over 4 billion years old.

More than 25 years ago, I heard about scientists who search for meteorites in Antarctica. I knew then that I wanted do that, too. My chance came about a year ago. I was lucky to be part of a team of scientists that went to Antarctica.

A white tent set up on a snowy landscape in Antarctica

The meteorite-hunting team slept in tents during the mission. Image Credit: NASA

We went to Antarctica by airplane. When we got there, we set up our tents. I shared a tent with one other person. Each tent had a stove. The stove kept us warm. We made hot drinks to warm us up. We also brought plenty of food to cook.

Once cozy in the tent, it was time for a meal and then some sleep. I had no idea that bad weather would keep us in our tent for the next two days. The tents kept us safe from the cold and wind. The temperature got as low as minus 23 degrees Celsius (minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit). The winds blew around 30 to 40 mph.

Eventually, the winds slowed. But a lot of our gear was buried in snow. So we had to dig out. We were then ready to start our search for meteorites.

A measuring device next to a small meteorite

The meteorites the team found were collected and sent to Johnson Space Center for scientists to study them. Image Credit: NASA

Upon finding a meteorite, we would give it a number and take a picture of it. We would also write down its size, what it looked like and where we found it. Sometimes we would spend an hour in one place finding many meteorites.

We stayed in Antarctica for just over six weeks. Planes flew into our camp twice. They brought fuel for the snowmobiles we used to get around. They also brought food and mail. It was nice to hear from my family and friends. I missed them a lot.

When the weather was bad, we wrote in our journals and read books. We also played cards, listened to music and cooked yummy meals.

We found a total of 710 meteorites. Some were as small as a little fingernail. Others were about eight pounds and too big to hold in one hand. We all found the hunt very exciting.

Lucy McFadden reading a book

During breaks, Lucy McFadden read books to relax. Image Credit: NASA

The meteorites were sent to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas. They are organized and stored there. Pieces of the meteorites are then sent out to scientists who study them.

Antarctica is a beautiful place. It was fun to be there. And it was exciting to do something that will help scientists learn more about the universe.

More about Antarctica:
What Is Antarctica?
Dawn Mission - Find a Meteorite   →
Previous Space Science Explorers Articles
Previous Earth Explorers Articles

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Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator