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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of October 8 - 14, 2003

News

Middle School teacher candidate for NASA


By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer

Wood River Middle School technology teacher Doug Walrath is nothing if not enthusiastic. In fact, his boundless spirit has taken him from a small dairy farm in Wisconsin, to the U.S. Army and a tour during Desert Storm, to Hailey to become a teacher, and then to NASA.

Last week, Walrath, 35, returned from a week at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where he was one of 20 candidates in a group being interviewed for the 2004 class of Mission Specialists and Pilot Astronauts.

Out of 4,000 applicants, the list had been culled down to 120. There are six rounds of week-long interviews and medical examinations conducted. Walrath applied for the Educator Astronaut position. He has a bachelorís degree in Tech Education and a masterís in Industrial Technology and Education.

In February 2004, the candidates selected will be announced. In the spring they report for duty to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

In January 2003, NASA started a new Educator Astronaut Program for a select handful of the nation's most outstanding science, technology, and mathematics teachers. These teachers are full-fledged members of NASA's astronaut corps. Educator astronauts are eligible, like other astronauts, to fly into space on multiple missions. Their further mission is to bring the science and marvel of space exploration back to students.

Currently Barbara Morgan, a teacher from McCall, is in NASAís permanent Astronaut Corps. Morgan was originally selected as the backup candidate for NASA's Teacher in Space Program in 1985. After the Jan. 28, 1986, Challenger accident in which teacher Christa McAuliffe perished with her crew, Morgan returned to Idaho to resume her teaching career but continued to work with NASA on educational outreach activities. In 1998, Morgan was chosen as the first educator astronaut and has been assigned to the upcoming STS-118 Shuttle mission, though a date has not been set for the mission.

Walrath described the week in Houston as being the best in his life. It began each day at 4:30 a.m. and continued until nearly midnight. The candidates had six hours of psychological testing, including 1,800 written and computer based questions that were analyzed in a five-hour session with a psychologist and psychiatrist. They also had thorough medical exams.

"They know me inside and out," Walrath laughed.

The biggest obstacle, in terms of stress, Walrath said, was the interview session with a panel of 15, 14 of whom are current or former astronauts.

One of the interviewers was John Young, one of the few astronauts to have walked on the moon. Morgan was also an interviewer.

"I thought my interview went extremely well, lots of laughs, stories and even a chance to play a two-minute video on my laptop of our tech program at WRMS," Walrath said. "Itís pretty darn cool when 14 astronauts get out of their seats and gather around your video. It will be one of the highlights of my life."

Walrath said that even if he is not selected, he will continue to apply every other year for the position. One woman in his group was on her fourth go round and was clearly an inspiration. "If anyone from our group gets it, I hope itís her."

 

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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.