Alumna plans to pilot space shuttle mission


Sometime this spring, if all goes well, MIT will add one more graduate to its astronaut corps.

Major Pamela A. Melroy, whose lifelong dream was to become an astronaut, will be the fourth MIT alumna to serve as an astronaut and only the second woman among all astronauts trained to be a space shuttle pilot.

Maj. Melroy, 34, received the SM in earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences in 1984. She will be the 21st person with an MIT degree to have become an astronaut. Only the Naval and Air Force Academies have had more astronaut graduates.

The winter newsletter of the Saint Louis School in Pittsford, NY, a parochial school from which Maj. Melroy graduated in 1975 before going on to high school, tells us more about her:

Described by her mother as "motivated and very bright," she excelled in high school, earning an Air Force ROTC scholarship and graduating as a National Merit Scholar. She received the BA degree from Wellesley College in 1983, double-majoring in physics and astronomy.

While at Wellesley, she trained with the Air Force ROTC detachment at MIT under a long-standing arrangement between the two schools.

Commissioned as a second lieutenant upon graduation, Maj. Melroy began to fulfill her commitment to the Air Force. She had always wanted to be a pilot, but she is physically petite and needed a special waiver allowing her to fly.

She was tested in the cockpit of a plane to make sure she could see through the window and reach the control pedals with her feet. Maj. Melroy got the waiver.

Before beginning pilot training, Maj. Melroy took a year-all the Air Force would allow-to complete her master's program at MIT.

After a year of pilot training, she was assigned to the KC-10, a large jet equivalent to the commercial DC-10, used for refueling fighter jets.

Maj. Melroy served in both the Panama crisis and Desert Storm. Continuing to pursue her dream, Maj. Melroy was accepted into Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. There she learned to fly C-17s, graduating after one year.

Armed with the solid background of flying and the sciences, Maj. Melroy was accepted for astronaut training last year. After completing the initial phase of her training in a month or two, she will be assigned to a space shuttle mission to occur in two to three years time.

In the interim, she'll continue to train and fly in a plane configured to simulate the shuttle.

Maj. Melroy, who even found time to be married, recently sent a NASA photograph of herself to the Saint Louis School. On it, she wrote: "Don't be afraid to follow your dreams."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 20, 1996.


Topics: Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Alumni/ae

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