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Astronaut Takes Future Engineers Into Space

On Sept. 11, an auditorium filled primarily with UW-Madison engineering students took a trip to the past, reliving the November 1994 Space Shuttle mission carrying equipment to study the energy of the sun (ATLAS-3). Minutes later the students found themselves on a journey to the future, this time aboard the International Space Station, which is scheduled for completion in the year 2002.

Ellen Ochoa

Ellen Ochoa (large image)

The time traveling came in the form of two silent videos and the live narration of NASA astronaut Ellen Ochoa, who was payload commander of the six-person ATLAS-3 mission. Her initial presentation showed highlights of that 11-day space voyage. The second feature was a computer-graphics demonstration of how the space station will fit together, module by module.

A veteran of two space flights (she was also a mission specialist on STS-56, carrying ATLAS-2) and the first Hispanic woman in space, Ochoa is currently assigned to NASA's Astronaut Office, for which she is actively promoting the International Space Station. This project will involve the cooperation of scientists from the U.S., Russia, Japan, Canada and several European countries.

The first section of the $17.6 billion space station is scheduled to be launched in 14 months, said Ochoa. Two Russians and an American will be the initial inhabitants. Eventually, she said, the station will be able to support seven people at a time, generally for six months each.

From materials science studies to biotechnology research, the International Space Station offers tremendous potential for future scientists, said Ochoa.