Astronaut Cady Coleman’s ’83 nickname is ‘the Pathfinder.’ “I’ve always been interested in going places people haven’t been,” said Coleman.
But she never really thought about going to space until she met Sally Ride, who talked to students in MIT’s 10-250 about her experiences on Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-7) back in the early 1980s. She tweeted about Ride in a recent #MITAlum Twitter Chat.
.@3PLearning Introduce them to female STEM role models. It’s easier to be excited/inspired by some1 who looks similar to you! #MITAlum — Emily Calandrelli (@EmCalSpaceGal) October 30, 2014 .@MITK12STEM @EmCalSpaceGal My catalyst was seeing Sally Ride. It changed my life. If you can SEE it – You can BE it! #MITalum @WomenNASA — Cady Coleman (@Astro_Cady) October 30, 2014
“All I did was shake her hand,” said Coleman. “But to me it was very significant to have this woman talk about what she did and realize that maybe that was something I could aspire to as well,” she said.
Coleman became an astronaut in 1992 after completing her bachelor’s degree in chemistry at MIT, a doctorate in polymer science and engineering at the University of Massachusetts, and ongoing service in the US Air Force, where she became a colonel (now she’s retired).
She has served on STS-73, STS-93, and the International Space Station Expedition 26/27 missions conducting key roles in robotics and scientific research, and aiding in the deployment of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.
On her past missions, she chose to grow out her hair for fun and to send a message. “Up in space, my hair is like this giant thing,” she said. “I think it says to girls, this could be you.”
She also found time in orbit to practice her flute with her fellow astronaut bandmates of Bandella including Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. Watch her play in a duet with Ian Anderson of band Jethro Tull and share how she lost her flute after cutting a practice short in space.
Coleman has been in space for 180 days. But to her, that’s not enough. “It’s very addictive…I just can’t see this getting old,” she said.
Astronaut Coleman’s testimonials are part of Space Shorts, a series of alumni astronaut stories, produced by Alumni Association videographer Brielle Domings. Watch all videos.