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Astronaut has high hopes

  • Photo courtesy of NASA.

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
August 31, 2018

Earlier this month, Nicole A. Mann, a Penngrove/Rohnert Park native and Rancho Cotate alumna and NASA astronaut, announced that she would be joining the Boeing Space team to help develop spacecraft systems that will be able to launch crew members to the International Space Station, an endeavor which will return the ability to launch humans into space from U.S. soil.

Last week, The Community Voice reported that despite many young children sharing similar dreams in becoming an astronaut and reaching the stars, this was not Mann’s childhood dream. 

Intrigued, The Voice set out to find out what she really dreamed of as a little girl growing up in Sonoma County and what makes this dynamic woman tick.

The Voice: I had heard that it wasn’t initially your dream to become an astronaut, so what was your first dream as a little girl, what did you want to be?

Mann: “I wanted to be an adventurer, even though that was not a real job.”

The Voice: So, you wanted to be a version of Indiana Jones? Mann laughed and said, “sort of.”

Mann: “I was really interested in building and creating things when I was little.”

The Voice: So, what was your favorite subject at Rancho Cotate High?

Mann: “It was definitely math with any of the sciences a close second.”

The Voice: Speaking of Rancho Cotate, what do you think your teachers would say if they could see you now?

Mann: “I would hope that they would feel proud because teachers are so influential for those at a young age and they taught me how to learn; how to ask questions, process and analyze. You get the foundation for life and I think that is what they taught me.”

The Voice: So, what was it like growing up in Sonoma County and what do you miss the most about it?

Mann: “I spent time growing up in Penngrove and Rohnert Park and I loved it. I thought it was a great community and I miss being able to go to the beach, camping, or the city. You get the opportunity to try everything. If I want to go to the beach here I have to go on a plane ride.”

The Voice: Switching gears then what is your role on the Boeing Space team? What would an average day be like for you?

Mann: “It’s kind of crazy but really fun since it is the first Starliner flight, so there is a lot of training and things to learn, how to operate in an emergency scenario. It is a lot of classes, tech training and space station training. We also have to do robotics training to learn how to capture a visiting cargo (ship) and training for spacewalks… which we simulate for that underwater. It is a lot to take in and something new every day.”

The Voice: Since this is the first time a NASA astronaut class is comprised of mostly women you must be honored to be one of those women?

Mann: “Absolutely, eight of us in the (2013) class are women, so 50 percent!”

The Voice: What has been the most rewarding and challenging part of this experience so far?

Mann: “The spacewalk training is very fun, but very mentally and physically challenging. They put you in a spacesuit (which weighs around 270 pounds on the ground) and you are kind of blown up like a balloon to feel what the pressure would be like in space and you are in there for six hours and they come up with scenarios for you (to go through).”

The Voice: Was there any part of this journey that was frightening or do you enjoy a challenge?

Mann: “It is not really frightening but stressful, in a good way. I enjoy a challenge and learning new things. You are really being tested every day and you have the pressure to perform, but it is a good stress.”

The Voice: What do you hope to accomplish for yourself and for this endeavor?

Mann: “Really we want to run the spacecraft through all of its phases and after that it may fly twice a year. Beyond the technical aspect, we are developing experimental concepts on how astronauts live onboard.”

The Voice: What advice would you give to someone who may want to follow in your footsteps?

Mann: “The most important advice I would give to anybody is to stay in school, study hard and try new things. As a young kid, you may not know what you want to do, but if you try new things, follow your heart and don’t limit yourself then you may find your passion. With that comes hard work and dedication and I think that is the key to success.”

The Voice: Everyone seem so transfixed on space, space travel and the beyond, so much so it is even in our pop culture; Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, etc. But why do you think so many people are interested in space?

Mann: “I think it is fascinating because it is the unknown and there are a lot of unanswered questions and that captures curiosity.”

For more information on Mann and to follow her adventures (maybe she did follow her original dreams after all as a space adventurer), check her out on Twitter at @AstroDuke or visit her profile on nasa.gov/astronauts/biographies/nicole-a-mann.