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In Their Own Words: Sandy Magnus
What made you want to become an astronaut?
Oh, gosh, I was in middle school, I think when the bug hit me, and it's like, 'Oh, I want to grow up and be an astronaut.' I'm not really sure why, they asked me that in the interview, and I couldn't come up with a concrete, you know, this defining moment. It's just sort of, I think an evolution of the idea of, exploring, pushing the boundaries of what humans can do. I love math and science, I learned more about engineering as I grew up and that all just sort of coalesced and I stuck with it.
What moments in spaceflight stand out to you?
Oh, that's a toughie, you know, I've had a long-duration and a short-duration mission, so I've had a lot of time up there. But I think still I will always remember the first time I saw the Earth right after we hit MECO, main engine cut off, on STS-112, my first mission. And I was working on the flight deck and it was my job to open the payload bay doors and I opened the payload bay doors and there was the Earth. And it was funny, because even without thinking, the first words out of my mouth were, 'Oh my goodness, our atmosphere is so thin.' So, that first view of the planet and just the instant impression of just how fragile our world is I think will always stay with me. Because, you know, intellectually, you know our atmosphere is thin. You can think about it and think about the circumference of the planet and the height of the atmosphere, but to see it really brings it home. It's like, 'Wow, we have to take care of this place, we have a very fragile planet.'
What was your biggest challenge in space?
The biggest challenge, oh gosh, I guess technically, I would say spacewalk training is probably the biggest challenge technically. It requires really good physical conditioning and a lot of endurance and you have to, and a lot of masteries of different skills. So, probably technically the biggest challenge. But I think a lot of people who have jobs like ours is just balancing work and home and things like that. That's a big challenge as well. So, there's different kinds of challenges. But, you know, any kind of job that pulls you away from home a lot or requires lots of hours, and there are many jobs out there that do that require the same kind of attempts to balance. I think that's a challenge for a lot of us who work.
What was your biggest surprise in space?
You know what the biggest surprise was? Was actually not anything I encountered flying in space. But it was getting a different idea of what gravity is after I returned to Earth. Because we grow up in gravity. You know, you don't realize that raising your hand like this requires huge amounts of effort. You don't realize that you have this force that is just pulling you to the planet and wants to squish you flat as a pancake on the ground. And after being out of gravity and freefall for four and a half months on the space station or even 11 days on my first mission, as you re-enter Earth's atmosphere and you start to be under the influence of gravity again, you realize just how overarching this force is and how you are working against it every day of your life. And that I think was really interesting, to have that little bit of perception shift to understand the environment that we are living in and we have adapted to here on Earth. That was pretty fascinating.
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