5 NASA superstars with ties to San Diego

NASA astronaut Jessica Meir

(Feb. 15, 2020) — Expedition 62 Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir works on orbital plumbing tasks inside the Tranquility module’s Life Support Rack. | Photo via NASA

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OK, so technically, we’re not rocket scientists, but we do think there might be some kind of gravitational pull happening at UC San Diego. Over the decades, many NASA superstars with ties to the local university have launched careers in space exploration.

We’re looking at five women with local connections who reached for the stars, worked hard, suited up, rose to the challenge + made history. 3…2…1… blast off. 🚀

🪐 Jessica Meir

NASA astronaut Jessica Meir

(June 7, 2019) — NASA astronaut and Expedition 61-62 Flight Engineer Jessica Meir poses for a portrait at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. | Photo via NASA

Jessica earned her Doctorate in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2009. Her research focused on the diving physiology of emperor penguins + northern elephant seals.

Selected by NASA in 2013, Jessica served as a flight engineer on the International Space Station as part of Expeditions 61 and 62, from Sept. 25, 2019, to April 17, 2020.

In October 2019 — alongside friend + crewmate Christina Koch — the women completed the first all-female spacewalk in 7 hours, 17 minutes. The duo would complete two more, totaling 21 hours, 44 minutes. Jessica also tweeted from space, including this awesome shoutout to her work with Scripps.

In all, NASA says Jessica logged 205 days in space, 3,280 orbits of Earth, and a trip of 86.9 million miles. And she’s already aching to go back.

👩‍🚀 Sally Ride

NASA Hall of Fame astronaut Sally Ride

Sally Ride stands on Challenger’s middeck, wearing light blue flight coveralls and communications headset, as she floats alongside the middeck airlock hatch. | Photo via NASA

NASA astronaut Sally Ride

On June 15, 1983, three days before launch aboard Space Shuttle Challenger, Sally Ride takes a last look at Houston before taking off in a T-38 jet, bound for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After a few days of preparation at KSC, Dr. Ride and four other astronauts became the first NASA five-member crew to fly in space as they lifted off in the Challenger from Launch Pad 39A. | Photo via NASA

On June 18, 1983, Sally made history, becoming the first American woman to go to space. Her job was to work the space shuttle Challenger’s robotic arm + put satellites into space.

Sally retired from NASA in 1987. In 1989, she became a physics professor at UC San Diego + and a fierce advocate for improving science and math education — especially for women and girls. She co-wrote seven science books for kids and launched NASA’s EarthKam project, which lets middle school students take pictures of Earth from the ISS.

Sally was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2003. She died of pancreatic cancer in her home in La Jolla on July 23, 2012. In her obituary, Sally was acknowledged as the first gay astronaut.

🛰️ Megan McArthur

NASA astronaut Megan McArthur

(Oct. 21, 2021) — NASA astronaut and Expedition 66 Flight Engineer Megan McArthur is pictured inside the cupola as the International Space Station orbited 263 miles above Alaska’s Aleutian Islands in between the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean. | Photo via NASA

Megan earned a Ph.D. in Oceanography from UC San Diego in 2002, where she conducted research at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in nearshore underwater acoustic propagation + digital signal processing. She also volunteered at Birch Aquarium at Scripps, hosting educational demos from inside the 70,000 gallon exhibit tank of the Giant Kelp Forest. To this day, she still proudly retweets her alma mater. UC San Diego is pretty proud of her, too.

Megan was selected by NASA in July 2000. In May 2009, she spent nearly 13 days in space as a Mission Specialist aboard STS-125, the final space shuttle mission to the Hubble Telescope. She served as robotic arm operator; the mission improved Hubble’s capabilities and extended the telescope’s life.

Most recently, Megan served aboard the SpaceX Crew-2 Mission from April 23-Nov. 8, 2021, and as flight engineer on the ISS for Expedition 65/66. During the Crew-2 Mission, NASA says Megan spent 199 days in orbit + traveled 84,653,119 miles — all while conducting hundreds of scientific experiments.

🚀 Kathleen “Kate” Rubins

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins

(Dec. 28, 2020) — NASA astronaut and Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Kate Rubins is pictured with spacewalk hardware inside the Quest airlock where spacewalks in U.S. spacesuits are staged. | Photo via NASA

Kate earned a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology from UC San Diego in 1999. According to NASA, she conducted her undergrad research on HIV-1 integration in the Infectious Diseases Laboratory at Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla (seriously, there’s gotta be something in the water in this seaside San Diego town).

Kate was selected by NASA in 2009. Her first spaceflight was on Expedition 48/49 — from July-October 2016 — where she made history by becoming the first person to sequence DNA in space. She also conducted two spacewalks totaling 12 hours, 46 minutes.

From October 2020-April 2021, Kate served on Expeditions 63 and 64, spending 185 days in space + conducting another two spacewalks. Across her two missions, she’s logged 300 days in space.

🌌 US Navy Lt. Deniz Burnham

NASA astronaut candidate Lt. Deniz Burnham

Deniz Burnham at a field test of drilling and sampling prototype instruments, as part of the Life-detection Mars Analog Project’s deployment at the Rio Tinto, Spain, Mars-analog site in the summer of 2017. | Photo via NASA

We’ll call Lt. Deniz Burnham the rising star of this bright bunch. Deniz was selected by NASA to join the 2021 Astronaut Candidate Class — and she reported for duty this past January to complete two years of initial astronaut training.

Deniz earned a Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering from UC San Diego in 2007. She’s also a lieutenant in the Navy and serves in the Navy Reserves.

Deniz is digging deep to be an astronaut. She has spent much of her career in the energy industry, managing drilling projects at rig sites. NASA says her skills could one day be used to collect scientific samples on deep space missions to the surface of places like the Moon + Mars. Deniz and the other nine candidates in her NASA class were selected from 12,000+ applicants, so truly, they’re out of this world.

The universe is vast. Did we miss your favorite female NASA legend in this roundup who has ties to San Diego? Share the stardust + let us know here: hello@thesdtoday.com.

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