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Astronaut lands at Mountain View Middle School

Dr. Millie Hughes-Fulford talks to Mountain View Middle School students Wednesday about her career as a NASA astronaut.    - Jesse Beals/staff photo
Dr. Millie Hughes-Fulford talks to Mountain View Middle School students Wednesday about her career as a NASA astronaut.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/staff photo

Special assembly gives students inside look at life in space.

Mountain View Middle School’s entire student body filled the gymnasium Wednesday for a special assembly, hearing firsthand from an astronaut about life in space.

Dr. Millie Hughes-Fulford, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) payload specialist astronaut, recounted her journey into the profession, summarized her experiences aboard STS-40 Spacelab Life Sciences (SLS-1), the first Spacelab mission dedicated to biomedical studies and fielded questions from curious students while encouraging each to “pursue your dreams.”

“I like (talking to middle school students) because this is the age when they’re making up their minds on what they want to do,” Hughes-Fulford said prior to the hour-long assembly. “If you can just make a difference in their lives.”

Hughes-Fulford, born in Mineral Wells, Texas, found an affinity for space as a young child. She watched re-runs of the “Buck Rogers Show” and dreamt of becoming a real-life “Wilma Dearing,” the show’s space-adventuring heroine.

“It just looked like a fun job for a girl,” Hughes-Fulford said. “I watched as many sci-fi programs I could see and fell in love with space.”

That love translated into success; Hughes-Fulford earned a doctorate degree from Texas Woman’s University in 1972, joined NASA in 1983 and was named Federal Employee of the Year for the Western Region in 1985, according to her biography, released by the Bremerton School District.

She has published more than 90 documents on bone and cancer growth regulation, according to her biography, and is a professor at the University of California Medical Center at San Francisco where she is director of the Laboratory for Cell Growth and a scientific advisor to the Under Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs.

“My dad used to tell me, ‘You have everything you need to do what you want to do,’” Hughes-Fulford said. “If you have the desire, you have the equipment to reach your goals.”

Her first space flight was the SLS-1 mission, spanning nine days, more than 3.2 million miles and 146 orbits. The crew completed 18 experiments and returned with more medical data than any previous NASA flight. The mission lasted 218 hours, 14 minutes and 20 seconds.

Hughes-Fulford said Wednesday she hoped to “catch the attention” of at least 10 percent of Mountain View students, either inspiring them to become an astronaut or to pursue their dreams, whatever those may be.

“That’s what I like; awakening them,” she said.

One of 70 astronauts and cosmonauts in Seattle for the 21st Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers (ASE), a five-day event hosted by the Museum of Flight, Hughes-Fulford participated in “Community Day,” which called the astronauts and cosmonauts to visit schools and community groups across the state. More than 50 schools participated.

“I was lucky enough to land here,” said Hughes-Fulford, who visited three schools total.

Bobbie Busch, who teaches science at Mountain View and is on the Education Leadership Advisory Board for the Museum of Flight, spearhead the event by applying last fall to have a speaker come to her school. She said her class reacted well to the assembly.

“A lot of them were really excited,” she said. “They were saying, ‘That was the coolest assembly ever.’”

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