- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2010

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. | Three women are flying aboard space shuttle Discovery. With another female astronaut awaiting them at the International Space Station, that makes for a record-setting four women in space at the same time.

Commander Alan Poindexter is taking his first crack at the space shuttle’s top spot. The last time he flew, two years ago, he was second in command. This time, he’s in charge, and it’s more complicated.

“I’m responsible for not only my training, but also everybody’s training … and getting the mission objectives met, and bringing everybody home and all the equipment home safely,” said the 48-year-old Navy captain, whose father served as national security adviser during the Reagan administration.

The pilot is Air Force Col. James Dutton Jr., who says a sense of wonder about the universe inspired him to become an astronaut. He finds it fitting that he’s making his one and only space shuttle flight aboard Discovery.

He remembers sleeping out in the backyard with his family as a boy one rare clear night in Eugene, Ore. He thought to himself, “There’s a God out there, and we’re going to learn more about Him as we explore the universe. For me, that was the big motivation.”

Former high school teacher Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger launched her space-flying career thanks to a student’s question.

A girl wanted to know how astronauts go to the bathroom in space, and Mrs. Metcalf-Lindenburger went to the computer to find out. That’s when she stumbled onto NASA’s ad for educator-astronauts. “This is like the perfect job,” she told her husband.

She applied and was accepted several months later, in 2004. This is her first spaceflight; she will help operate the robot arm and coordinate three spacewalks from inside.

Mrs. Metcalf-Lindenburger is the first Space Camp graduate to rocket into orbit. She attended the Huntsville, Ala., camp when she was a teenager. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in geology and a teaching certificate but knew she wanted to work for NASA one day.

Now 34, Mrs. Metcalf-Lindenburger taught Earth science and astronomy for five years in Vancouver, Wash. Husband Jason teaches seventh-grade Texas history in Houston. They have a 3-year-old daughter.

She has run more than 10 marathons and is from Fort Collins, Colo.

Richard Mastracchio, the lead spacewalker, prepared for this mission with help from his 25-year-old son.

As he trained underwater for the three spacewalks he’ll conduct at the International Space Station, Mr. Mastracchio had his scuba-diver son, David, by his side the whole time. His son is a safety diver at the astronauts’ training center in Houston.

Mr. Mastracchio, 50, an electrical engineer from Waterbury, Conn., started working at the Johnson Space Center in Houston in 1987, specializing in shuttle software. He went on to work in Mission Control. After nine years of applying to be an astronaut, he finally made it in 1996.

Stephanie Wilson is one of only a handful of black women to fly in space.

Ms. Wilson, 43, grew up in Pittsfield, Mass., torn between whether to pursue a career in astronomy or engineering. She chose the latter, went to Harvard University and worked on the Titan IV rocket. Following graduate school, she joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in 1992, working on NASA’s Jupiter-exploring Galileo probe. That’s when she met the first black woman in space, Mae Jemison, who encouraged her in her pursuits.

NASA picked Ms. Wilson as an astronaut in 1996. She became the second black woman in space 10 years later.

“We still have a lot to do to encourage young women and women of color to apply for these types of jobs,” she said.

She’s comfortable with being a role model. Her message to young women is: “If we can do it, so can they.”

This is her third spaceflight, all in the past four years. She will help operate the robot arm.

Clayton Anderson is returning to the International Space Station, but this time it will be just a short visit.

He spent five months aboard the orbiting outpost in 2007. This 13-day flight is a reward for all the arduous training that went into that long mission.

Mr. Anderson, 51, spent his entire career at Johnson Space Center in Houston, arriving in 1983 during the early shuttle program. He became an astronaut in 1998. He will perform three spacewalks on this flight.

Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki is the second woman from her country to fly in space.

She grew up dreaming about space and the stars and even drew detailed pictures of a space hotel while studying engineering at the University of Tokyo.

“As an engineer, my future dream is to create such a space hotel, so that many people can access space,” she said.

Mrs. Yamazaki, 39, joined Japan’s space program in 1996 and worked on the space-station lab that her country was supplying to the International Space Station. The Japanese Space Agency chose her as an astronaut three years later.

This is her first spaceflight. She will be in charge of the moving van that is flying up on Discovery for the space station.

She will join another Japanese astronaut who has been at the space station for three months, Soichi Noguchi. She’s taking up Japanese curry and noodles for him.

Mrs. Yamazaki’s husband, Taichi, gave up his flight controller’s job in Japan to follow her career and help raise their 7-year-old daughter.

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