UCSD alumna and fellow astronauts safely back home

by Ioana Patringenaru

Courtesy of UCSD

In the end, coming back home turned out to be the only major glitch for UCSD alumna Megan McArthur and her fellow astronauts during their mission to repair the Hubble Telescope.

Hazardous weather at NASA’s Florida landing site kept the space shuttle Atlantis in orbit for two additional days. Finally, mission control decided to land the spacecraft Sunday morning at Edwards Air Force Base in the California desert.

Before leaving the runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Commander Scott Altman spoke for his crew and thanked NASA personnel for getting them safely back home.

“At last!” Altman said. “We’re all thrilled to have the mission complete and it was a testament to the teamwork and cooperation of folks all across the country.”

The Atlantis crew will be honored during a welcome-home ceremony this afternoon in Houston. During this mission, McArthur became the last human being to hold on to Hubble via Atlantis’ robotic arm. She also was the first to make contact with the telescope on this mission before releasing it back into space May 19.

“What I felt the most was just awe at the human ingenuity in creating such an amazing thing,” she said from the shuttle’s deck during a press conference. “It was so huge, so close to us.”

Once the Hubble repair work was over, McArthur and her crewmates also had a chance to relax and enjoy the spotlight.

They received a call from President Barack Obama Wednesday. “I wanted to personally tell you how proud I am of all of you and everything that you’ve accomplished,” Obama told the crew. “Like a lot of Americans, I’ve been watching with amazement the gorgeous images you’ve been sending back and the incredible repair mission that you’ve been making in space.”

He jokingly asked the crew if they had seen his house in Chicago during the shuttle’s flyovers. “I’m trying to figure out if my lawn is getting mowed there,” the president said. “I haven’t been back for a couple of months.”

The next day, ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson was on the line, asking why his audience should care about the Hubble repair mission. “This mission has been an example of what the best and brightest in America can do working as a team,” Commander Altman replied.

An NBC News reporter asked McArthur what it felt like, as an oceanographer, to see the oceans from 350 miles above the Earth. “It’s a good reminder that we have so much right at home,” she said. She also reminisced about her time at UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where she got her doctorate. That’s where she had her first taste of what it was like to be an explorer, she said.

Meanwhile, FOX News had some children ask astronauts what it felt like to move in space. “The coolest thing is floating around,” McArthur replied. “My hair just kind of floats around, which is pretty fun but I have to make sure I don’t get it in anybody’s face.”

McArthur also was asked what it was like to be the only woman in close quarters with six men. She said it felt like being part of a family. The two years of training had felt like being on a camping trip with a bunch of friends, she said.