Like many of us, Megan McArthur toyed with the idea of being an astronaut in her youth.
What sets her apart, however, is that she went on to actually do it. Yes, McArthur is a real life, space-exploring astronaut employed by NASA. Despite the time she's spent soaring above the stratosphere, she's incredibly down-to-earth. During our recent interview with her, she illuminated us on topics ranging from what it takes to become an astronaut, seeing Earth from space, the existence of aliens, and hygiene in a microgravity environment.
Becoming an Astronaut
“I was determined to become an astronaut back when I was a high school student, but I knew it was a long shot," McArthur told SWAAY. “I went off to UCLA and studied aerospace engineering with the goal of working in the space industry somehow. In the early '90s, as I approached the end of college, a friend who knew I was interested in pursuing a career at NASA sent me the information for how to apply to be an astronaut."
Though she was not qualified to apply at the time, the application helped McArthur better understand NASA employees' varied backgrounds and experience, and served as a guide for what she needed to do to make her dream of becoming an astronaut a reality.
She threw herself into the engineering project she was working on (building a human-powered submarine, no big deal), and went through the process of getting scuba certified. Upon graduation from UCLA in 1993, she began working on her Ph.D. in Oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. There, she conducted research in nearshore underwater acoustic propagation and digital signal processing. She also obtained a private pilot's license, and volunteered at Scripps' Birch Aquarium as an educational demonstrator for the public, which entailed spending time in a 70,000-gallon exhibit tank. All this was fueled by her passion to explore the world in its entirety, and it also contributed to the skillset working astronauts possess.
Photo courtesy of Megan McArthur & NASA
Finally, while in graduate school, McArthur felt she was ready to apply to NASA, and poured herself into the application process.
“I put in my application in 1999 and was interviewed that year," she said. “I got picked up in the class of 2000 along with 16 other astronaut candidates, and began training that August to become a Mission Specialist."
For the two years that followed, McArthur trained extensively at the Carter training facility in Houston, Texas. The regimen involved everything from operating robotic arms, spending time in a space flight simulator, and “spacewalk training in a huge swimming pool that's 40-feet deep," she said.
After completing her training in 2002 — the same year she obtained her Ph.D. — McArthur was assigned to work at the Astronaut Office Shuttle Operations Branch as a shuttle system technician. She also served as the Crew Support Astronaut for the Expedition 9 Crew during their six-month tenure, and was the Capsule Communicator for the Space Station and Space Shuttle Mission Control Centers.
Going to Space
Photo Courtesy of Megan McArthur
On May 11, 2009, after years of training, McArthur took the 5,276,000-mile journey into outer space as a crew member of the STS-125 mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. This was the fifth and final servicing mission of the telescope, and McArthur was the flight engineer on the near 13-day journey.
“Waking up on launch day was like Christmas morning," said McArthur. “I was super excited, and the only thing I was afraid of was making a mistake, or making the mission harder than it needed to be for my team. But you train so hard – and you work, work, work – and I was so focused on all the logistics and getting everything right."
She recalled sitting there, still strapped into her seat shortly after launching, and seeing the Earth outside her window. In work-mode, she says she thought to herself, “There's the Earth. It's right where it's supposed to be," and then went back to work again.
It wasn't until hours after the launch that she could finally pause and gaze out the window.
“Seeing Earth from that angle was awe-inspiring," she said.
“Even though you're so far away, it creates within you this tremendous love for your planet. You can see how thin the atmosphere is, and you feel this supreme responsibility to take care of, and preserve, its beauty. And what was truly remarkable for me was seeing these huge thunderstorms over the oceans. It's like watching your own light show."
STS-125 was a successful mission. The crew retrieved the Hubble Space Telescope with the shuttle's robotic arm, brought it into the cargo bay, and then spent six days servicing its frozen bolts, stripped screws and finicky handrails. It was then returned, this time with new and rejuvenated scientific instruments, batteries, gyroscopes, and a new computer.
On Packing a Space Bag, Keeping Clean, and Aliens
When we asked McArthur how you pack a bag for outer space, she revealed that it's actually quite simple, since the crew has a team of experts managing their provisions and food. They're also strict in terms of what clothes and personal items you're allowed to take with you.
“For my mission, you're asked to choose a certain type of pants, shorts, and socks, and then you can have a specific shirt that you can order from a specific place," she said. “You're allowed a very small allotment of personal mementos, as well. I asked everyone in my family to give me something of theirs. I also have some things from my university, as well as photographs of people in my family."
“You can take sponge baths to keep yourself clean, but we don't have a shower or bath," said McArthur. “My experience was only two weeks long, but try to imagine people who are up there for longer missions! It's interesting, because you're not walking and therefore not shedding skin cells the same way you do on Earth. You can actually have situations where you shed a bunch of skin cells at once. Everyone has their personal hygiene routine, though. You can even cut your hair if you want!"
We also had to ask about aliens, which McArthur kindly informed us wasn't a weird question at all (though it's often asked by the children she speaks to in her NASA outreach).
“I do believe there is life somewhere in the universe other than on our planet," she said. “In our neighborhood? No. But if I'm really lucky, we may find proof of something while I'm still alive. The universe is so vast. Incomprehensibly vast."
The Future of NASA
When the space shuttles were retired in 2011, it was a difficult day for everyone who loved flying, said McArthur. Still, it created an opportunity for NASA to develop new capabilities. Currently, NASA is working with an exploration class vehicle for deep space exploration, and it also has contracts with Boeing (Space Launch System) and SpaceX (Commercial Resupply Launch) to assist with this.
Photo Courtesy of Megan McArthur, Photo Credit: Flickr
As for increasing the number of women in the NASA program, McArthur says that it ultimately boils down to choosing astronaut candidates who have STEM backgrounds and are fully qualified.
“Historically, fewer women pursue science, technology and engineering, but we're seeing more and more women coming into those disciplines and then applying to the program," said McArthur. “In fact, our most recent class (2013) has four men and four women. I help with the selection board, and I am meeting some truly fantastic women and men. It's really inspiring, and it makes me grateful that I already have this job because it'd be really difficult to compete with the talent coming in."
A large part of space exploration has to do with “seeing what's out there" and advancing our current technologies. However, it also serves another vital role: it inspires the human race. It compels us to put down our phones and look at the stars, says McArthur, and it motivates us to strive for the "impossible."
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If you are reading this, then it is quite likely that you are a business leader and mentor already, and the very fact that you are looking to improve your skills beyond your current capacity means you are already ahead of the game.
In corporate sectors all around, a general trend has been observed which point towards the conclusion that talented women employees do thrive better under female mentorship. What this means is that women at the forefront of corporate leadership today must continue to improve in their ability to both lead and mentor the leaders of tomorrow. This is facilitated by the easy availability of ILM Level 7 Executive Coaching courses and training nowadays, which we are going to discuss in detail next.
Improving as a Mentor: Where Do You Start?
Given that improving on leadership and mentorship skills only concerns those that are already leading businesses and tutoring fresh talent under them, the very first requirement here concerns completing advanced ILM Level 7 Coaching programs.
However, in order to also include a more comprehensive educational curriculum and training to hone your mentorship skills to a point, it would be a good idea to go with a BCF Group program, which will help you to get that widely respected and vastly useful ILM Level 7 Certificate in Executive Coaching and Mentoring.
The BCF Group is one of the UK's most highly rated Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) Approved Centres for ILM Level 7 Executive Coaching Courses. To know more about what exactly to expect during and after completing your ILM Level 7 Qualifications in Executive Coaching and Mentoring from the centre, head over to the official site.
In the meantime, some of the advantages of their ILM Level 7 Coaching curriculums can be highlighted as follows:
- Advanced understanding of high-level coaching and mentoring theories
- Critical evaluation of one's own leadership mentoring and executive coaching practices
- Knowing how to relate someone's personality and nature of business to her own mentoring practices
- Personal growth: Effective learning and mentoring fellow coaches
Once you have the ILM Level 7 Coaching Certificate, you are finally ready to take on advanced responsibilities as a business leader and significantly improve on your ability to mentor the fresh, female executives and leaders that rely on you for guidance.
Without the necessary advanced education and training, progress would not be possible after a point, but once you do end up completing your certifications, it is time to build on that that knowledge and training by adding your own unique touches towards developing a mentoring procedure for your clients/executives.
Understanding the 3 Different Aspects of Mentorship which Hold the Most Value to Corporate Women
There are various different aspects of business coaching, but most women usually need more assistance and guidance in some particular areas over others. If you have a certificate in executive coaching and mentoring, you most likely possess the ability to cover at least two of them for your clients.
After going through the opinion of numerous business mentors who have had a great deal of experience in working with talented women across multiple fields, the primary mentoring needs of corporate women in particular seem to be divided into three broad categories:
- Advisory mentorship
- Strategic mentorship
- Operational mentorship
Advisory Mentorship: Feedback
Most women working in a corporate environment agree that their managers are not as straightforward or guiding with their feedback to the female executives as they are usually with the male executives. The feedback is, of course, extremely important for growth, and in its absence, improvement and employee evolution is often stunted - even in those with potential.
The advisory role of the mentor is meant to fill this damaging gap by providing her with valuable feedback which she can then use to further her own progress. It is important for everyone, regardless of gender, to get a clear idea regarding what their weaknesses are that they need to work on, as well as getting feedback on their strengths, so that they know exactly what to rely on in times of urgency. The advisory role played by a coach and mentor involves doing both and much more.
Strategic Mentorship: Exposure
Exposure is another part of the industry where women employees and even female business owners are lagging behind, since managers, partners and other decision makers often end up highlighting the best performing men over the equally talented (if not more so) women.
The job of the strategic mentor is to make sure that her clients are not overshadowed by anyone. They work towards bringing the spotlight to talented leaders and executives, so that they too can form valuable partnerships, get promotions, and find more suited roles for their talents. It is to be noted that experienced and well-connected business coaches who have been in the field for a while make the best strategic mentors for obvious reasons.
Operational Mentorship: Advice
Operational mentorship goes beyond just the generic advice, but involves an actual process and step by step solution to overcoming obstacles in a female executive's path to success, be it for an immediate project or a long-term goal.
Just as experienced coaches and mentors are ideal for strategic mentorship, women need more industry specific guidance when it comes to operational mentors. They need to be women who have actually worked in the specific field concerned, or finding practical solutions and forming strategies to overcome specific obstacles will prove difficult, even if the mentor has her best interests in mind.
When you are a highly qualified, experienced and successful female business coach, know that you are not only helping your clients reach success, but you are at the same time being seen as a role model for women working in the corporate sector. Every time you succeed in making another woman reach her goals, you are inspiring more women to follow in your footsteps, as well as showing them how to walk that road to success by mentoring them.