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Astronaut and Wife Work Together to Educate Children About Living in Space
There may never have been more pressure on one astronaut to complete a science activity in space than right now for Expedition 12 Commander Bill McArthur on the International Space Station.

McArthur's wife is in charge of the activity.

"It's not easy relying on your husband to do chores when he's 240 miles up in space," says Cindy McArthur, principal investigator for Educational Payload Operations. "I told him if he didn't complete the activities, he'd be in trouble when he got home," she adds with a laugh.

Cindy McArthur with husband Bill, far right, along with his cosmonaut crewmate, Valery Tokarev Image at right: Cindy McArthur watches her husband Bill, far right, on the large television screen in Marshall’s Payload Operations Center. The astronaut and his cosmonaut crewmate, Valery Tokarev, center, were conducting an interview from the International Space Station during a public affairs event for the Johnson Space Center. Credit: NASA/MSFC/E. Given

A former kindergarten teacher, Cindy McArthur is an education specialist in the Teaching from Space Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. From her position as a contractor with Oklahoma State University, she sees first-hand how the unique environment of the space station opens a wealth of educational opportunities for students on Earth.

“We want to bring the science on board the station to the classroom,” she says.

McArthur works with Payload Operations Center planners at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., to help schedule her husband's education payload activities. He works with the flight controllers in the Payload Operations Center when conducting the activities. It's a team, she says, both she and her husband have come to love and rely on.

The Marshall Center is helping the arrangement run smoothly for the Houston-based couple. Planners in the Payload Operations Center set up the timelines for science activities on the station to ensure the astronaut starts and finishes on time. "He's not on my schedule. I'm on his," she adds.

Cindy McArthur recently visited Marshall to participate in meetings to plan space station science and her educational activities for upcoming crews. During the Educational Payload Operations activity, station crewmembers perform curriculum-based activities in space to demonstrate basic principles of science, math, physics, engineering and geography. The demonstrations are videotaped and used in classrooms and NASA educational products. The activities help students discover how familiar objects may perform differently in the microgravity environment on board the space station, and help them see how their classroom lessons apply to space exploration.

Bill McArthur certainly sees the importance of educating students about space flight. An astronaut since 1991 and a veteran of three space shuttle missions -- STS-58 in 1993, STS-74 in 1995 and STS-92 in 2000, he received a bachelor's degree in applied science and engineering from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., in 1973, and a master's degree in aerospace engineering in 1983 from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

He performed his first Educational Payload Operations early in his six-month stay on board the station, which began in October 2005. McArthur recorded a lecture about the solar panels of the station, showing how the power systems work on board. He also has demonstrated the importance of safety while working in the Destiny laboratory, shown how supplies are delivered to the station by the Russian Progress vehicle and detailed how U.S. and Russian spacesuits compare to each other.

McArthur often calls his wife for feedback when performing the education activities. "I think he felt some pressure for obvious reasons," she says. "I sweat a little bit too, but I knew he’d handle it well. I just think he's adorable, especially when he asks me what to wear."

Comments like that make it easy to recognize the love the McArthurs share. "He was my first date," she says grinning. That was 38 years ago. They've now been married 30 years, with two daughters.

So what would the former teacher give her astronaut husband on his report card for these educational activities?

"All A's," she says with a smile. "He's definitely passing. He can come home anytime."

Steve Roy, Marshall Space Flight Center