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UCSD Graduate Blasts Into Space Aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis

Above: Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-125 astronauts, (R-L) commander Scott Altman, pilot Greg Johnson, mission specialists Megan McArthur, mission specialists John Grunsfeld, Mission Specialist Andrew J. Feustel, and mission specialist Michael T. Good wave as they prepare to head to the launch pad for a 2:01pm launch today at Kennedy Space Center on May 11, 2009 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Audio

Aired 5/12/09

An astronaut who earned her doctorate at UC San Diego was blasted into space today aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, which took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a mission to make improvements to the Hubble Space Telescope.

K. Megan McArthur

Above: K. Megan McArthur

— One of the seven astronauts on the Space Shuttle trip to repair the Hubble Telescope is a graduate of UC San Diego. KPBS Reporter Ed Joyce was on the La Jolla campus Monday as a group watched Megan McArthur's maiden voyage.

Sixty UCSD faculty, staff, students and friends gathered to view the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis on a theatre-sized screen. Megan McArthur, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography graduate, is the only woman and one of four rookie astronauts on the 11-day Hubble mission.

McArthur received a doctorate in Oceanography from Scripps in 2002. The 37-year-old was once a volunteer show diver in the Birch Aquarium's kelp tank. Scripps Institution of Oceanography Professor William Hodgkiss was McArthur's faculty advisor. He says her engineering studies at UCLA and work in ocean sciences at Scripps dovetail with her tasks in space.

"The nature of the work draws on physics and mathematics and understanding how acoustics interacts with the seafloor in the ocean," Hodgkiss says. "And so because it's mathematical, it's physically-based, translates directly into anything you do in terms of science or supporting science on a space mission."

McArthur will use robotic arms to stabilize and assist astronauts working on the Hubble during five planned spacewalks.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-125 blasts off from launch pad 39-A at Kennedy Space Center on May 11, 2009 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Atlantis is scheduled for an 11-day mission to service the Hubble telescope.
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Above: The Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-125 blasts off from launch pad 39-A at Kennedy Space Center on May 11, 2009 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Atlantis is scheduled for an 11-day mission to service the Hubble telescope.

Officials say operating the arms is like brain surgery in orbit. Former NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin, who lives in San Diego, approved McArthur's selection to the space program nine years ago.

"And I remember Megan, what a powerful resume. What an incredible interest in opening the space frontier. So she did it on merit," he says.

The shuttle engines kicked in and the group viewing the launch also amped up.

Ed Joyce, KPBS News.

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