Name: Tracy Caldwell Dyson
Short biography: Tracy Caldwell Dyson was born in 1969 in Arcadia, Calif. After graduating from Beaumont High School in 1987, Dyson attended California State University at Fullerton, from where she received a bachelor’s of science in chemistry, and the University of California at Davis, from where she received a doctorate in chemistry. In 1998, Dyson was selected to become a NASA astronaut.1 (And in 2012, I became wickedly jealous while doing research—being an astronaut has long been one of my dream jobs.)
What they do: As an astronaut, Dyson has worked various jobs at NASA. In 1999, she worked in the Astronaut Office ISS Operations Branch as a Russian Crusader, testing and integrating Russian products for the International Space Station (ISS). In 2000, she became Crew Support Astronaut for the ISS Expedition 5 crew. In 2003, Dyson moved to the Astronaut Shuttle Operations Branch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida where she worked on launch and landing operations.
Dyson first flew into space in August of 2007 on the space shuttle Endeavour; she was assigned Mission Specialist No. 1 on the flight. On April 4, 2010, Dyson joined the Expedition 23 crew aboard ISS, where she spent 176 days floating around and enjoying the view (among her actual duties, of course). (1)
Why they matter: Dyson is one of the few women astronauts—women make up only 20 percent of the corps—a time of flux for the organization. According to 2011 article from the Women in Tech section of The Huffington Post2: “Though America will not, for the foreseeable future, bear witness to another NASA shuttle launch, Dyson remains optimistic that the agency’s past accomplishments and other endeavors will inspire future generations to pursue careers in space, as she once was.
“‘I hope that the next generations will remember everything that NASA has done, from its inception to now, even though the shuttle program is gone,’ she said. ‘There’s still a lot out there to inspire people.’”
In the same article, Dyson was asked for input on how more women can be enticed to get involved in tech fields, and her answer is one of the best I’ve ever heard. “I think the more we normalize these tech fields and skills for women, the less intimidated or inhibited women would be to try them at a young age,” she said. “I don’t know what goes on in every household, but it never occurred to me that there was anything out there I couldn’t try or couldn’t do. My parents had plenty of opportunities to say to me, ‘girls don’t normally do that.’ I rode motorcycles, I worked with my dad with tools, I enjoyed sports—but my parents didn’t put any limitations on me.”
Her other achievements include (as if going to space wasn’t enough):
- Being the lead vocalist of Max Q, an all-astronaut band based out of Houston. (Here’s an old video of the band, in case you’re curious.)
How they got where they are: Dyson was inspired by Christa McAuliffe, the teacher-turned astronaut who died in the tragic 1986 Challenger shuttle explosion. McAuliffe’s admittance to the astronaut program showed Dyson how perseverance and dedication could help her to reach her goals. “Upon the completion of graduate school, I decided it was time to apply,” Dyson says in an interview housed on the Women at NASA section of the official NASA website. “At the same time I submitted my astronaut application, I began a post-doctoral fellowship in chemistry at the University of California at Irvine. I waited about a year for a call back from NASA and the chance to interview. I didn’t know what to expect. The only jobs I had had before were for my father, student jobs, and a research assistant job. I was nervous to say the least, but I decided that the best course of action was to just be myself; it was my only chance at capturing my dream.”3
References: 1, 2, 3