T-minus 10 minutes to lift off! Here I am standing on the shore at Cape Canaveral, just minutes before the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery and my diatom payload.
I was 22-years-old when I flew my first experiment on the Space Shuttle. The mission was STS-95, which just so happened to be the John Glenn-return-to-space flight. AND, if that wasn't exciting enough, he was the astronaut trained to operate the hardware for my experiment!
I was an undergraduate at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, which is a Space Grant University. I had decided to go to school there because of all the exciting space activity associated with the University. As it turns out, I could not have made a better choice for myself.
In 1997, I traveled with a group of engineering students to the NASA Johnson Space Center, where we spent two weeks training to fly ourselves and an experiment on NASA's KC-135, aka the "Vomit Comet." The following year, I flew with another experiment on the KC-135. During October of that same year, 1998, I flew a biological experiment with diatoms (golden-brown algae) on the Shuttle Discovery (although I did not get to fly with them, sadly!)
My experiences as an undergraduate were incredible; my mentors at UAH gave me the invaluable opportunity to work with three separate microgravity experiments prior to graduating from college. I am sincerely grateful to Dr. Douglas Feikema, for allowing me to participate in the KC-135 program for two years in a row. I am humbled and thankful to Dr. Charles Lundquist for his guidance and the opportunity to design and fly my own experiment on the Space Shuttle. And I am grateful to Dr. Marian Lewis for her science advice, and for allowing me to use her lab space and equipment.