Astronaut and alumna Tracy Caldwell Dyson returns as distinguished speaker

On Saturday, one UC Davis alumna returned to campus to discuss the out-of-this-world accomplishments she’s made since graduation.

As a part of the College of Letters and Science Annual College Celebration, NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson spoke to a room full of guests of all ages who were eager to learn about her missions in space.

“One of the most common questions I get is, ‘What is it like to be in space?’ As soon as someone finds out you’re an astronaut that is the first thing they want to know,” Dyson said.

Dyson devoted over an hour to answering this question and engaging the audience with the wonders of her missions.

At 16 years old, Dyson witnessed the growing popularity of the Challenger mission and the building of the International Space Station, which inspired her to become an astronaut. Her focus for the rest of her education was set on attaining that goal.

Dyson received a Ph.D. in chemistry from UC Davis in 1997 after having received a B.S. in chemistry from California State University, Fullerton in 1993.

Shortly after graduating from UC Davis she applied to the astronaut corps. Her dream of becoming an astronaut came true, as she was selected for the NASA astronaut program in June 1998.

“The astronaut corps are looking for a whole cadre of people. They look for scientists and engineers, of all backgrounds in most fields. In science, they look for medical doctors as well as physicists, biologists and chemists,” Dyson said. “When I was selected, we were beginning the space station program, so they were, I feel, looking for more scientists than they had been before. In the future I don’t imagine that need to diminish as we go further into space.
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After 14 years in the program, she has been a part of two missions, with a total log of 188 days in space. During her six-month mission Dyson lived and worked aboard the International Space Station as a Flight Engineer on Expedition 23/24, performing three successful contingency spacewalks to remove and replace the failed pump module on the International Space Station.

Her lecture, including a video and photographs of her time in space, gave the audience some insight into what it’s like to be in space.

“As a crew member on board the space station, whether my background as a scientist or my background as a fighter pilot, we all do the same thing. We all do the research,” she said. “Also, photography — we do a lot of Earth observations. So we do a variety of things, not just scientific research.”

Now that the space station is assembled, Dyson said it will be more dedicated to pursuing what it was built for: scientific research.

Dyson was chosen as the Deans’ Distinguished Speaker for the College of Letters and Science 60-year anniversary because of her great achievements in science.

Among those in attendance was UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B.  Katehi, who said Dyson was one of the shining stars of the space program and an outstanding example of the excellence that the College of Letters and Science is capable of.

“Generations of students have become leaders in their fields thanks to their education from the College of Letters and Science,” Katehi said. “When we look at the past 60 years of success we feel all energized and very enthusiastic about what lies ahead in terms of opportunities — in terms of the great achievements this college can produce through the faculty, the staff and the students.”

UC Davis physics professor Winston Ko also attended the lecture to celebrate the 60-year anniversary. He spoke about the success of what the college has done over the years, with an optimistic look to the future.

“We hope this distinguished lecture epitomizes what we are all proud of: 60 years of excellence, reaching to the new height.”

MICHELLE MURPHY can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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