UVA’s Kathy Thornton is inducted into the Astronauts Hall of Fame
Over the weekend, UVA’s associate dean of engineering, who was also America’s second woman in space…was inducted into the Astronauts Hall of Fame. Before she left for the ceremony at Kennedy Space Center, Charles Fishburne talked with former Astronaut Kathy Thornton about her time in space.
Voiceover: “Lift off Space Shuttle Endeavor!” “Houston, …..Control.”
Thornton: That’s my shuttle model, which I guess will be history in a few months. But it’s a good memento and reminder of my time in space, my little heartbeat in history.,
UVa’s Kathy Thornton was America’s second woman to walk in space.
Thornton: It’s was really interesting to be out there by myself. It was so quiet and peaceful. There was a problem with my communication set and so the only person I could hear was my space-walking partner, Tom Akers. And so, if he wasn’t talking or humming, as he liked to do, it was very, very quiet, the only sound was the fan in the suit blowing clean air, clean oxygen across my face. It was totally calm and peaceful.
Voiceover: “Roger Roll Endeavor. Chris Ferguson, confirming Endeavor is rolling on course for a rendezvous with the International Space Station.”
At the time that you were doing these space walks, you were a mother, you had a family. Did you ever have second thoughts?
Thornton: Well, you think about that before you launch. When you say good-bye to your family before you launch, that’s the really, really hard part. After that, you’re sort of on auto-pilot, you do what you’ve trained to do, what you’ve signed up to do, what you’ve wanted to do, for years and years, and you just move on with it, knowing that you are well-enough trained and the rest of the crew is well-enough trained to deal with anything we can deal with. And the things that are beyond your control you just don’t worry about.
Kathy’s training began in 1985 when she was among 17 of 5,000 applicants selected for astronaut training. With her undergraduate work at Auburn, a doctorate in physics from UVa, and post-graduate work in nuclear physics, she was prepared for a twelve-year career with NASA, during which she logged 975 hours in space, more than 16 million miles in orbit and 21 hours outside the shuttle, walking and working in space.
But the shuttle’s last flight is set for this fall and there is no replacement program. And in a few months the only way American astronauts will get back into space will be to buy a ticket, literally, on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for some $55 million a seat.
Thornton: It’s extraordinarily painful for the people who are a part of it, the people who will be displaced. But, on the other hand, in the big picture, that’s progress. We can’t fly the shuttles forever. It’s truly unfortunate that we don’t have another launch vehicle ready to go when we retire the shuttle and that we could transition all the skills from the shuttle to that new program.
The Constellation program has been cancelled, the Aries rocket has been cancelled. The 2020 trip to the moon has been cancelled. And, some say, future human space exploration is just too costly and too dangerous and we should leave it to robots.
Thornton: Exploration and science aren’t the same thing. There are some things that we should send robotic explorers to do. And they are times when we need people to be there to explore, just to be there, because we are people and that’s what we do.
Kathy Thornton is now Associate Dean of Graduate Programs at UVa’s Engineering School, and the latest inductee into the Astronaut’s Hall of Fame.
Charles Fishburne, WCVE News.