Monday, May 2, 2011

Asimov in the News: Astronaut alumna reflects on era of space shuttles

The Purdue Exponent: Astronaut alumna reflects on era of space shuttles

BY FAISAL GHIAS | Online Editor Purdue Exponent

A Purdue graduate was reading an Isaac Asimov novel by earthlight during her first spaceflight when she realized that, like the characters in the novel, she had made it to space.

"Here I am, back in my science fiction reading - and I made it," Janice Voss, a Purdue alumna and veteran of five shuttle flights, said.

Voss first became interested in space after reading the book "A Wrinkle in Time" when she was in sixth grade.

"I've been reading science fiction ever since and that led me to science non-fiction and space, and I never looked back," she said.

As she continues her career with NASA, Voss is working at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where she helps make improvements to various aspects of missions to space. One project Voss described was optimizing a keyboard for use in a zero-gravity environment. The layout of the keyboards onboard the shuttle were changed after it was discovered that certain key combinations were hard to input with one hand.

Voss strongly believes in the idea of taking the knowledge learned from something and moving on to apply it to something newer and better. She said that although it may be sad to see something go, it shouldn't be sad, because the knowledge that can be taken away from it will help build something even better.

Voss described the basic experience of going into space as similar to visiting a national park for the first time.

"You see the mountains, the rainbows, the bushes and trees; you see nothing around you but forest, that experience of ‘Wow, what a gorgeous planet we live on.' You can have that experience here on Earth."

Voss said she doesn't see the shuttle program ending as a negative.

"Things are continually changing and improving. We learned an enormous amount from flying the shuttle; it's time to take that knowledge and move on. I'm very excited that the shuttle is ending on a strong note ... the program has accomplished amazing things. I mean, how much better does it get than that for a program?"

With the shuttle program ending, and NASA having no immediate replacing the shuttle, many are expecting the commercial market to fill the space travel and exploration void. Although other astronauts are worried about the commercial market taking over, Voss views this as a great opportunity.

"I think commercial crew is a great thing and we're ready for that.

"The space program has gotten to the point where small companies can afford to get into the game, and I think that's exciting," Voss said. "They can take the lessons which the government money paid for - which is what government money is for - to do things which are important to this country, that the private sector can't risk for some reason or another."

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