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Turning Toward Space

Science teacher Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger was sworn in last week in Houston as a new employee of the U.S. space agency, alongside the 10 other recruits, including two other educators, forming the astronaut class of 2004.

Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger

Two months after a phone call from NASA told her that her application to be an educator mission specialist had been accepted, "the actual move down to Houston made it real," she said in a phone interview last week.

Ms. Metcalf-Lindenburger, 29, who taught science and astronomy at the 1,500- student Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver, Wash., said her students were more fascinated by space than other natural wonders.

"They’ve got a volcano in their back yard," she said of Mount St. Helens, which is 70 miles northeast of the school. "It’s an active volcano, but they don’t see it as active," she pointed out, noting that her former students were born after the volcano last erupted in 1980.

On the other hand, "space is something they don’t take for granted—it’s very much an unknown frontier," she said.

Her school gave her a gala sendoff last month in the gymnasium, which was crowded with teenagers, her colleagues, and local politicians. Afterward, she said goodbye in her classroom, where her students feasted on star-spangled Little Debbie cakes and Milky Way candy bars.

She and her husband, a social studies teacher, have rented a house in the Houston area, not far from the NASA Johnson Space Center, where the manned space flight program is based. Jason Metcalf-Lindenburger will teach next fall in the nearby Clear Lake school district.

Starting this week, Ms. Metcalf-Lindenburger must survive grueling training at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida, the first phase of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s intensive, two-year initiation for astronauts. The program includes gut-wrenching stress tests as well as foraging and orienteering in snake-infested swamps along with educator mission specialists Richard Arnold, 40, and Joe Acaba, 36, and the other astronauts in training.

"The biggest thing for me: I just want to do my best, and not let anybody down," Ms. Metcalf-Lindenburger said.

—Andrew Trotter

Vol. 23, Issue 41, Page 3

Published in Print: June 23, 2004, as Take Note

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