How does a toilet work, in outer space?
Thanks to a ninth grader’s curiosity, then science teacher Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger researched the question on a NASA website, and in the process, brought about the fulfillment of a big, bold childhood dream: she wanted to be an astronaut.
“On that same website they said they were hiring teachers,” Metcalf-Lindenburger said in a TED-x (Technology, Engineering, and Design) talk, Dream Boldly.
“This was the answer to my question: I wanted to be an astronaut, and I enjoyed teaching — I could combine the two things I loved into one.”
And so she did, although it takes much less time to write than it does to do.
After a grueling application process and six months of waiting, Metcalf-Lindenburger joined NASA in 2004, trained for two years, and in 2010 flew as Mission Specialist on the STS-131 Discovery Mission to supply the International Space Station.
She’d done it: the 1997 Whitman College graduate, who, after taking a B.A. in geology went on to Central Washington University in Ellensburg to get her teaching credentials, was a genuine astronaut, orbiting 250 miles above the earth. It fulfilled what she wrote when she was 9-years-old, assigned the perennial question: What do you want to be when you grow up?
“I knew what I wanted to be; I made this paper mache doll — I was hopefully not going to look like a ketchup bottle, but I wanted to be an astronaut,” Metcalf-Lindenburger recalled in a 2014 NASA video, In Their Own Words.
“But I had other dreams. I wanted to be a teacher like my parents and my heroine, Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved digging in my backyard for fossils along the Front Range (in the Rocky Mountains). I enjoyed going up to Rocky Mountain National Park, and I love looking up at the night sky.”
A Teacher Like Wilder; An Astronaut Like Bean
So she became a science teacher who became an astronaut who then became a geologist for Geosyntec Consultants in Seattle. As dream fulfillments go, it’s a pretty good one.
A few months before Metcalf-Lindenburger’s 2010 launch on the space shuttle Discovery — which, in its 27 years of active service launched and landed 39 times — she got a call from her mother, who was cleaning out Metcalf-Lindenburger’s childhood room.
“You know that shuttle model you made when you came back from Space Camp?” her mother asked, referring to Metcalf-Lindenburger’s attendance, 20 years before, at the NASA youth program in Huntsville, AL, where the U.S. space program was born.
“Well I looked, and it was Discovery.”
Coincidence? Chance? Design?
“It’s just kind of a neat connection,” Metcalf-Lindenburger says in In Their Own Words. “It happened just by chance, but it was a really cool chance that it happened.”
Meeting the Apollo Astronauts
Metcalf-Lindenburger stayed with NASA until 2014, during which time she commanded the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 16, an undersea exploration. As the lead singer of the all-astronaut band, Max Q, she sang the National Anthem at the 2009 Houston Astros vs. St. Louis Cardinals game, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
And she met the Apollo astronauts:
“They are a brave group of men who changed how we thought about ourselves and our planet,” Metcalf-Litzenburger says. Years earlier, while working at Wenaha Gallery in Dayton, WA, during her studies at Whitman College, she encountered the paintings of Alan Bean, who as an astronaut was the fourth human to walk on the moon, and as an artist, chronicled the experience.
“I was very impressed by his work, and interested in its details,” she said.
Bean enjoyed incorporating space-age items into his paintings, from footprint impressions of the astronaut’s boots, patches from his space suit, and sprinkles of moondust to textures made from lunar tools. It brings the moon down to earth, even as those who live and dream on earth, like Metcalf-Lindenburger, gaze up into the sky.
Bean was an engineer/fighter pilot/astronaut/artist. Metcalf-Litzenburger is a teacher/astronaut/geologist with more descriptions to add, because dreams don’t end with fulfillment.
“I had achieved my dream, but does that mean that dreaming is over once you’ve accomplished the big one? Is that it?” Metcalf-Lindenburger concluded in Dream Boldly.
“You see, the little girl that dreamed about being an astronaut, about floating in space – she’s still here, and she’s still dreaming.”
In tribute to the late astronaut/artist Alan Bean, Dorothy “Dottie” Metcalf-Lindenburger is the featured guest at Wenaha Gallery’s Autumn Art Show Saturday, October 6, and will be speaking at 10:30. Also featured at the Autumn Art Show, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., are jewelry artist Venita Simpson of Richland, and acrylic pour painter Joyce Klassen of Walla Walla. During the show, the gallery is offering 10 percent off all Bean fine editions in stock, free artisan treats, live music, and a free fine art note card to every visitor.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.