Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Way at the Bottom of the Earth

By Maggie

This week I'm posting on my daughter Serena's new project for NASA. I haven't mentioned this before, but my Doctor of Internal Medicine daughter was a Flight Surgeon for NASA for two years, working along with the other NASA scientists and engineers on the International Space Station. She loved her work, particularly since being involved with NASA had been a life-long dream of hers. I still remember watching Serena sitting in front of the television watching one of the space shuttle lift-offs. She must have been 9 years old. I sensed something "clicked" inside her and lit a flame of interest that has never gone out. It burns still.

Well, after two years of intense effort working on the ISS, NASA announced it was once again accepting applications for astronaut candidates. All applications had been closed for five years. Serena threw her hat into the ring. I wasn't surprised. She told the family: "If it happens, great. If not, I'm already doing the work that I love." That's definitely a win-win. After an entire year of intense interviews and physical exams that went stem to stern--literally--Serena was one of nine astronaut candidates chosen in June 2009 out of over 2500 applicants. Five men and four women. If you'd like to check them out, go to www.nasa.gov and on that home page find the Search box. Enter "Astronaut Class 2009." If nothing comes up, go to the Archives section and search there. It will bring up photos and short descriptive paragraphs on all nine candidates. They are called "candidates" because each new class undergoes two years of intensive training before they can "graduate" to full-fledged Astronauts.

Serena and the others began their training that August of 2009, and it will be completed in late May 2011. Along the way, they've had at least two research trips to Arizona and New Mexico to hike over the mountains with geologists and learn about the various elements found here on earth and on other planets. They also hiked around with the geologists searching for meteorites, since they are the best examples of what elements are actually "out there" in outer space and other planets. And early this summer, Serena was chosen by NASA to join a special team of scientists that search for meteorites at the South Pole. Yes, that's all the way at the bottom of the earth in Antarctica. Apparently, geologists from various international scientific organizations schedule two-month long research trips to Antarctica during the area's summer--December and January.

Why Antarctica & the South Pole? Because that's the best place to spot meteorites apparently, and there are regular sightings--and findings. That's why the scientists have targeted that locale. So---instead of celebrating Thanksgiving with all the rest of us like she did last year, Serena left the day after Thanksgiving for Christ Church, New Zealand to meet up with others on this year's research team to acquire the specialized outer gear required. When all assembled, they flew off to McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. There they have started a week-long survival training while the Supply folks start gathering the cargo that the two separate teams of researchers will need while out in the "field." The field being the huge expanse of ice. They'll live two to a tent where they will sleep and cook their food---out there on the ice. They'll be out in the field for 45 days consecutively. Apparently during their "summer," most of the winter snow has melted from the top of the ice leaving the permanent bottom layers. That's why it's easy to spot meteorites on that blue white expanse of ice.

The scientific expedition posts a blog every day talking about what the research teams are doing. Each researcher takes a turn. Serena has already posted on 12/5/10. I did notice that the photos posted had mislabeled Serena and her tent-mate, Melissa. In case you check it out, Serena is wearing a blue snow jacket. :) Moms can always find their kids, no matter where they are. Here's the link below: