Monday, November 5, 2012 sure seemed like a typical day... I came in a little earlier than normal to work at 8 am after my morning run and getting ready. Sandee, my office mate, was already there to greet me. On Mondays, a committee I work with for NSF Education and Human Resource's priority goal, meets regularly from 4 to 5 pm. I left the meeting at 5 pm, came back to my office, and checked my email. I only had a couple, but one was a voicemail from 4:11 pm and I did not recognize the area code. I listened to it and I think my jaw must have hit the floor by the time the message was complete. It was very brief, but the level of excitement took me back to when I received a phone call telling me I had won the Presidential Award back in April 2006. Here is the message the voicemail shared, "Hi Cindy, this is ________ calling from the astronaut selection office here at NASA. Would you please give me a call at your earliest convenience? My phone number is ___________. Thank you." Well, to be honest, my "earliest convenience" didn't seem to happen fast enough! My heart was racing, blood pumping, and I was wondering, "Did I make the next step?"
I called back immediately and was by myself in my office. The person asked me if I "was still interested" in coming down to Johnson Space Center for an interview! Hmmmm, let me think about that one for a few minutes...
I have long had a fascination with space. When I was a little girl, my Dad told me that some men had put a flag on the moon a long time ago. I remember straining my eyes frequently at night out in the driveway looking at the moon for that flag and not being able to see it. The thought left me curious and I have looked at the moon frequently in the evenings ever since, often feeling like it is "teasing" me to come and visit. My parents took my brother and I to Florida to visit my grandparents twice when we were younger. At least once, we visited Kennedy Space Center, I even still have a Matchbox size toy space shuttle I purchased there. A few years later, my family went to Cedarville University's Homecoming, the school that was my Mom's (and mine) alma matter. While in the Cedarville bookstore, I saw a poster that I really liked and bought it. It was a picture of U.S. astronaut, Ed White, performing the first spacewalk. It also had a quote on it, "And those who dare to dream, dare to do." That poster hung up in my bedroom while I was growing up, always in a location where I could see it from my bed. It made me wonder what it would be like to float in the vastness of space, see the Earth in one complete view, and hear the quiet of space. The poster later traveled to my dorm room at Cedarville University when I was a student there, and hung up in my classroom at Milan High School for 16 years. Another pivotal experience when I was younger that inspired me towards space was being invited to participate in my middle school's Young Astronaut club. In this afterschool group, we went to museums, conferences, and other special events to learn more about math and science. I realized then that not everyone liked those subjects like I did and realized I was different than many other kids.
Now, back to the phone call. I did respond very quickly and excitedly that I would indeed STILL be interested in coming down to Johnson Space Center for an interview in early January. As the lady told me about logistics of the trip, my officemate, Sandee, walked in to our office and could tell I was very excited about something. I kept giving her a thumbs up and tried to shake my head to indicate I had an interview. I think she figured out pretty quickly what was happening on the other end of the call. As soon as I got off the phone, I ran down to the front office where one of my sponsors was. I burst into Pam's closed office to tell her I had an interview. She was extremely excited, got up and gave me a hug. Those still left in the office seemed happy to be a part of the celebration.
I called many friends and family after work, but was a little stressed. I still did have a Russian test that night and was very nervous about it. It did end up going well and I found out later on Wednesday that I received an A! One email I did make sure to send out Monday night was to Dr. Cora Marrett, the Deputy Director of NSF. She has been extremely supportive of the Einstein Fellows, especially this year, and is a big fan of our program. We have talked several times and emailed occasionally. I wrote her to inform her that I had an astronaut candidate interview and first thing on Tuesday morning, I received an email back from her. Dr. Marrett is one of the most thoughtful, warm hearted people I know and not only did she write me back a very supportive, encouraging email, she copied Dr. Kathy Sullivan, Assistant Secretary at the Department of Commerce (NOAA) and also first U.S. female astronaut to walk in space! To my amazement, Kathy wrote me a wonderful, lengthy email full of encouragement and support. I was also able to share my news with Barbara Morgan, the first educator astronaut to make it successfully to space and back in 2009. We ran into each other at NSF a few months ago and I had sent her an email in the week before my phone call. She just happened to respond soon after my phone call and right before I took my Russian test.
It has been wonderful to share the joy of just being selected for an interview with so many friends and family. My hometown community has been incredibly supportive of me in this process and I can't wait to go home for a visit and celebrate with them. I know I am only partway through this process and there is no guarantee I will make it any further. The next step would be a more in depth interview sometime in the spring, then the actual selection. Truthfully, I am very grateful that the Lord has allowed me to experience this, but also so many other blessings in my life. This interview coming up in January is definitely something I have worked very hard towards for many years, but it would never have happened if it wasn't part of God's ultimate plan for me. For this, I am very grateful.