Tracy Caldwell Dyson

Irvine’s own NASA astronaut

by LORI BASHEDA

Did you know Irvine has its own resident astronaut?

Tracy Caldwell Dyson was studying atmospheric chemistry at UC Irvine in 1997 when she got a call from NASA informing her that she was among the 25 out of 5,000 applicants selected that year to join the Astronaut Corps.

Caldwell Dyson is now a veteran of two space flights and has logged more than 188 days in space, including 22 hours in spacewalks.

And she is friends with Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the American astronauts who soared to the International Space Station on May 30 on the historic Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket. With mission accomplished, the two are scheduled to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean around noon Aug. 2.

Last week, in fact, Caldwell Dyson logged on to her computer at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to walk Behnken and Hurley through their suit-up for their final spacewalk.

“These are my brothers in space,” she says. “So I look forward to whatever part I can play to bring their mission to success. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that.”

Caldwell Dyson spent 174 days living at the Space Station in 2010.

She says days in space are busy, filled with experiments and two hours of daily exercise to counter the weakening effects that near-zero gravity has on bone and muscle. “We need to be able to walk out of the spacecraft when we land.”

Caldwell Dyson’s name is on the list for future missions, including Orion, which is expected to send astronauts to the moon in 2024.

Her favorite space memory?

“Gosh, if I had to pick only one, it would be the view,” she says. “Trucking along at 17,500 mph, but you’re high enough to see the rich detail of this gorgeous planet. And looking back at our planet from above the atmosphere. And the stars. It’s just hard to explain in words or in pictures.”

Her least favorite aspect of space life?

“Oh goodness, I’m going to say the lack of running water,” she says. “Because things float in space – and I mean everything, including dead skin from your body – my ponytail became a trap.”

Washing her hair was a once-a-week treat that she had to do with a pouch of water.

Caldwell Dyson said some astronauts have trouble sleeping in space because they need to feel a firm surface beneath them, but she loved it.

“It’s so dreamy, just floating there,” she says.

Tracy Caldwell Dyson