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News | May 3, 2017

Astronaut Discusses Science and Spacewalks at DIA

By DIA Public Affairs

NASA astronaut Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor spoke at the Defense Intelligence Agency headquarters in Washington, DC April 17, discussing her experiences as an astronaut and the U.S. space program.

In the latest installment of DIA’s the Masterminds series, Dr. Auñón-Chancellor spoke to DIA officers about the astronaut selection and training program, her upcoming mission to the International Space Station (ISS), and working with foreign counterparts.

“Your [DIA’s] work touches many people across the globe … if not everyone; we like to think at NASA we also touch everyone,” said Auñón-Chancellor.

Auñón-Chancellor, an engineer and flight surgeon, handles medical issues for both the Commercial Crew and International Space Station Operations branch. She also has served as the lead capsule communicator – serving as the communication link between the IIS and NASA Mission Control Center on Earth. Her training and assignments have led her to Russia, Ukraine, Texas and the South Pole.

Selected as an astronaut in 2009, Auñón-Chancellor recounted the astronaut selection and assignment process. With a typical 2.5-year timeline from assignment to flight, and 60 percent of their time spent overseas, the program is both highly selective and rigorous. There are only 46 astronauts right now, down from 120 in 2009.

Training includes International Space Station systems and maintenance, robotics, science skills, and of course … spacewalking. “NASA cross trains everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pilot, doctor, scientist. Everybody does spacewalks, everybody operates the robot arms, everybody learns how to fly the vehicle,” she said.

The crew’s daily routine focuses on science. “Human science, material science, engineering … that’s what the crew is involved with on a day-to-day basis,” said Auñón-Chancellor.

The ISS is one of the brightest objects in the night sky. “There are apps to track it and tell you when it passes overhead, said Auñón-Chancellor, allowing you to see it as it passes by at 17,500 miles per hour.

Auñón-Chancellor said the ISS is about the size of a 5-bedroom house, with the length of the truss about the size of a football field. “It’s a pretty big place to work,” she said. Challenges for the ISS crew include closely monitoring CO2 levels, cleaning dust which collects in small spaces and electrical components, maintaining crew health, and monitoring radiation exposure. “Similar to a military deployment, you do everything you can to keep up morale of the crew.”

The Masterminds series brings presenters who have distinguished themselves in public or private service to DIA to help foster the professional development of DIA’s workforce.

DIA's mission is to provide intelligence on foreign militaries and operating environments that delivers decision advantage to prevent and decisively win wars. Nearly 50% of DIA's 16,500 employees are stationed outside Washington, DC at national intelligence centers, combatant commands, combat zones, and defense attaché offices worldwide in more than 140 countries.