Tonight my daughter asked me one of the inevitable questions of childhood: how do you go to the bathroom in space? To answer, I naturally turned to… ok, this is embarrassing for someone with three space-related technical degrees to admit – I turned to YouTube. I thought about getting out some books, making explanations, drawing pictures. But I figured the internet would not fail to provide a video, which would do a much better job of explaining than I possibly could.
The internet did not fail me. The first thing to come up in the search was a marvelous video of astronaut Sunita Williams giving a tour of the International Space Station. The video had not only a tour of the bathroom facilities, but also all the rest of the living facilities.
This was a double win, as my daughter and I got to see the kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping areas on the ISS and we also reinforced the whole “if she can see it, she can be it” concept by watching an excellent female STEM role model in action.
Here’s where the story gets really great. After watching the whole video with wide-eyed enthrallment, she looked at me and said, “Mommy, will you buckle me in and take me to the space station now?” Oh, kiddo. Would I ever love to do just that.
So it turns out explaining how astronauts go to the bathroom in space is pretty easy. Explaining to a four-year-old that we can’t just head off to visit space right now is hard. I think I lost her somewhere in between “do well in school” and “work hard” but the spark is there, at least. I have definitely passed the ‘space fever’ on to my kid!
Oh, and here’s the video:
Tomorrow I think we’ll look for some good Chris Hadfield videos as well.
Guess it’s time to start saving up for that first trip to Space Camp?
Dr. Margaret Rhea Seddon was one of six women in the first class of NASA astronauts to include females. She graduated from medical school in 1973, completed a surgical residency, and worked as an emergency room physician before she was accepted as an astronaut candidate in 1979. She is an avid pilot and passionate advocate for young women in STEM fields and patient safety training initiatives.
Her first flight into space was on Discovery in 1985, and her second and third flights were on Columbia in 1991 and 1993. She flew as a mission specialist and as a payload commander for Spacelab, and tallied over 722 hours in space.
After leaving NASA in 1997, she went back into the medical field, working for the Vanderbilt Medical Group in Nashville for eleven years before moving to her current position with LifeWing Partners, LLC. She is not afraid to stand up for others in her patient safety advocacy work, but she is also not afraid to stand up for herself. In 2008 she filed a gender-discrimination suit against former employer Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Married to a fellow astronaut, she blazed trials at NASA by becoming not only one of the first women astronauts, but also the first active astronaut to have a baby – in fact, she had three while at NASA. And she did it all while keeping her medical skills sharp working on the side at the ER and balancing family life with two astronauts in the family.
Rhea Seddon is an impressive STEM female role model, and a good example of how you can work in several fields – medicine, science, safety, advocacy – and tie them all together into a successful career that positively impacts society.