An Out of this World Role Model…On and Off the Planet!
If you had asked me prior to my time at Higher Orbits to describe an astronaut, I would have probably listed the usual words that come to mind for many people. Someone who is brave, resilient, intelligent, and confident while pursuing space exploration goals to better life for all of humanity.
I mean after all, you have to possess a few of these qualities to willingly launch yourself out of Earth’s bounds in the name of science.
Over the past two years I have now met my fair share of astronauts. A lot of wonderful individuals who of course are all of these things and so much more. I have many stellar astronaut memories I could share, but in honor of this year’s #NationalAstronautDay, I am happy to reflect on my experiences working with Astronaut Wendy Lawrence.
Wendy Lawrence is a retired US Naval Captain and US Naval Academy graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Ocean Engineering. Following her extensive and impressive career with the Navy, she became one of 24 astronauts a part of the 1992 selection. Wendy was a part of NASA’s 14th Astronaut class, nicknamed The Hogs.
After astronaut training, Wendy Lawrence flew on four space shuttle missions: STS-67, STS-86, STS-91 and STS-114. Her final mission was the first Return to Flight mission after the Columbia disaster. As a mission specialist, she has logged 51 days, 3 hours and 56 minutes in space.
It is no question that Astronaut Wendy is a remarkable human and role model based on her achievements alone. When I had the opportunity to work with her at Higher Orbits’ Go For Launch! Tucson event back in 2021, that’s when I realized that she and most other astronauts are so much more than their career and these pre-set values we assign our space industry’s heroes.
Go For Launch! Tucson was hosted at the Pima Air & Space Museum. An out of this world venue that showcases beautiful and historic aircraft. At the end of the first day of our program, Astronaut Wendy started speaking with our students about a few helicopters she flew during her time with the Navy.
As Higher Orbits Communications Director, I take quite a few photos at our events. After I snapped a few shots of Wendy speaking with our Tucson students, I took a step back and just listened.
Do these students even recognize the once in a lifetime opportunity they are experiencing at this very moment?
I asked myself.
Wendy is the first female Naval Academy graduate to become an astronaut with over 1500 hours in 6 different types of helicopters (while making more than 800 shipboard landings). She is also one of the first two female helicopter pilots to make a long deployment to the Indian Ocean as part of a Carrier Battle Group.
Here you have this exceptional, yet humble, individual who is speaking to students about the basics of helicopter flight. She told stories and shared her experiences while answering questions.
Astronaut Wendy is passionate about connecting with students and helping them find their space in the wonderful world of STEM. She meets students at their understanding and loves to see their “lightbulb” moment, which I have noticed consistently across our events regardless of our program size.
At our Go For Launch! Utah event in 2022, Astronaut Wendy sat down with a student who wanted to better understand the effects of microgravity on different materials in space for his team’s project. After a bit of searching, Astronaut Wendy found a video that she felt could help direct him and his team. At various parts of the video, she would pause it to answer his questions and explain in more detail about concepts that would help elevate their project.
Our most recent program that featured Wendy was our Go For Launch! Midland Winter event. On the final day of the event, she lost her voice. Despite being able to speak barely above a whisper, Wendy supported and mentored students in a variety of other ways. She answered questions by writing down the answers and still made herself an available resource to our students and team.
Outside of our programs, I have come to know Wendy as a friend. She will go out of her way for anyone. A true leader and a valued teammate in any setting.
So yes, Astronaut Wendy is brave, resilient, intelligent, and confident, but above all else, she is an amazing human with a big heart and a passion for supporting students. I am truly honored to have the opportunity to work with such an inspiring individual and role model.
Thank you, Astronaut Wendy, for being you! Happy #NationalAstronautDay