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Home > February 2020 > A Conversation between NASA Innovators
A Conversation between NASA Innovators
Posted: 2/18/2020 11:44:38 AM

One perk of visiting the Intrepid Museum during Kids Week is getting the opportunity to learn from the people shaping the future of science and space exploration. Richard Robert “Ricky” Arnold II, educator and NASA astronaut, has played a vital role in two missions, including Space Shuttle mission STS-119, which delivered the final set of solar arrays to the International Space Station in 2009, and again in 2018 onboard Soyuz MS-08. As a spacewalk flight controller and trainer at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, flight director Allison Bolinger teaches astronauts how to work outside their spacecraft. These colleagues had a few questions for each other as they recalled their most memorable NASA moments.

Allison Bolinger and Richard Robert “Ricky” Arnold II
Allison We both started at NASA in 2004. I came here directly after graduating from Purdue University, having also interned down here while working on my aerospace engineering degree. Your path here was just a wee bit (okay, a lot bit!) different–tell me about it.
Ricky I had worked for fifteen years as a middle school and high school science and math teacher before coming to NASA, so you are correct–my path here was a wee bit different. However, I did have an advanced degree in the sciences and had experience in operations though both were sea-based rather than space-based. Still, many of the principles are the same and everything we do here at NASA is based on teamwork.
Allison I had the pleasure of training you for your spacewalks on your Shuttle mission STS-119 in 2009, and then traveling to Baikonur, Kazakhstan to watch you launch on a Russian Soyuz in 2018. How did the launch on the Shuttle compare to the Soyuz?
Ricky The physics is the same–you are trying to go from sitting still on the surface of Earth to cruising along orbital velocity in a little over eight minutes. You achieve this by sitting on top of a controlled explosion. However, I would compare the Shuttle to riding a large truck while the Soyuz felt like more of a sports car. The real difference between the two, however, was coming back to Earth.
Allison Speaking of spacewalk training–we do a majority of our training on Earth in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL), one of the world’s largest pools, to simulate micro-gravity. How did your training on Earth compare to doing spacewalks in space? What’s the biggest surprise? What is one of your most memorable experiences while out spacewalking?
Ricky You are very well-prepared from a technical standpoint, the main thing you can’t prepare for is the view.
Then Ricky took a turn asking Allison a few questions.
Ricky Besides studying STEM, what other things did you do in school that prepared you to become a NASA flight director?
Allison I think one of the best things I did in high school was the drama club. It helped me get comfortable with public speaking, which is a big part of what a Flight Director does, whether it’s leading your team through daily activities or presenting to management. Theater also helped me prepare for moving forward towards your end goal even when things go unexpectedly–“the show must go on!” Those adlibbing skills and learning to roll with the punches has benefited me in Mission Control.
Ricky Tell me about your best day at NASA.
Allison Wow, it’s tough to pick just a single day! There have been a lot of good ones. My most recent best day was in last October, at the culmination of my Flight Director training. Before we’re handed the figurative keys to the Space Station, we announce our call sign to the team we’ll be working with that day, as well as friends and family who are gathered to witness this special event. In addition to my parents from Ohio and husband, friends like you were able to share in this momentous occasion with me. From now on I will be known as Athena Flight, the 95th Flight Director.
  Kids Week attendants will also have the special opportunity to hear
Allison Bolinger and Ricky Arnold present and answer questions for audiences on Friday, February 21 and Saturday, February 22. NASA will host fun all-day activities in Hangar 3 starting Wednesday, and Allison
will lead a Friday/Saturday workshop at 1:30pm to teach kids how to design and build their own space stations!
See the full schedule of exciting Kids Week events here! ❱



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