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The power of space

March 28, 2019

Astronaut Cady Coleman, ASU's new Global Explorer in Residence, shares lessons she brought back after 6 months on space station

“Space is compelling,” understated astronaut Cady Coleman at the end of her inaugural lecture at Arizona State University as the new Global Explorer in Residence.

Amidst her 24 years at NASA, Coleman spent six months on board the International Space Station, as well as two space shuttle missions.

Being launched into space, “there’s nothing like it,” Coleman told a packed house at Marston Exploration Theater in Tempe. “You realize once those engines light, you are going somewhere and you are not going to stop until you get there.”

Getting to space takes 8.5 minutes. The station is as wide as a football field. At the 50-yard line sits the crew quarters, storage areas and labs. The length of 10 train cars strung together, it’s “a city in space.”

And after you arrive it’s an endless lesson in looking at everything in new ways — from people to the planet to water, it’s all different up there.

Being in zero gravity gives a new way of looking at common things, such as water. “What does liquid really want to do?” Coleman said, showing photos of globs of liquid floating around. “Surface tension becomes the dominant force.”

Frequent medical tests to see what living in space does to humans are part of flying on the ISS. She learned women in space lose bone density 10 times faster than a 70-year-old woman with osteoporosis. What the 70-year-old loses in a year, younger women lose that in a month in space. (Exercise, however, can replace the lost density, at least in certain areas.)

“The work we do for space and exploration is very compelling,” Coleman said.

As the lead robotics and lead science officer aboard the station, she performed the second-ever robotic capture of a supply ship from the station. A 16-ton supply ship can be dangerous to lasso in. “This is something completely routine,” she said.

What is not routine is learning how to get along with people very different from you. Of the thousands of questions and requirements and needs NASA throws at astronauts, “Will you like this person?” is not one of them.

Her Russian crewmate Dmitri Kondratyev lacked the American trait of smiling for the camera.

“I needed to realize I can’t rely on what I see on the outside, and we come from different places and different cultures,” Coleman said. “All of us bring things the others can’t see. ... In order to be a really effective team, you have to connect with each other.”

This was the theme of her lecture — “Lessons from Space Lead Straight Back to Earth” — and she brought it home.

  • To really reach out and find each other, look at what we do differently.
  • To share your story, be brave.

One space lesson, that it’s normal to toss things around — demonstrated in a video of her slow-motion tossing her flute from side to side after performing an Earth-space duet with Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson — had to be unlearned back home.

Global Explorer in Residence Cady Coleman delivers her inaugural lecture at ASU in front of a projection of a photo of her on a rocket

Astronaut (and space flautist) Cady Coleman shares photos and videos of her adventures aboard the International Space Station during her inaugural lecture as the new Global Explorer in Residence for ASU's Interplanetary Initiative. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now 

When her mission ended, “I remember landing as the wheels touched down and I thought, “That was too soon.’ ... I would have lived another six months up there in a minute.”

“It makes you feel like a citizen of everywhere,” looking down on the planet, she said.  When she returned home, she asked a cab driver where he was from.


“I was just there!” she thought, having passed over the Sinai Peninsula in the ISS.

Looking back on that time, she considered it a lesson in using the art of perspective.

“If you try to stretch your perspective and see people and work and jobs in a different way, you can work well together as a team,” she said. “Every one of us has something inside we should bring out and have others help us use.”

Down in Tempe, as well as being the Global Explorer in Residence for ASU’s Interplanetary Initiative, Coleman is also a professor of practice in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

As well as being an astronaut, Coleman is a chemist and a retired U.S. Air Force colonel.

In her spare time, she coached actress Sandra Bullock in preparation for Bullock’s astronaut role in the movie “Gravity.” During her time on the ground at NASA, Cady served in a variety of roles within the Astronaut Office, including chief of robotics, lead for tile repair efforts after the Columbia accident, and lead astronaut for integration of supply ships from NASA’s commercial partners, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman. Before retiring from NASA, she led open-innovation and public-private partnership efforts for the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA Headquarters.

Cady earned a BS in chemistry from MIT in 1983 and a PhD in polymer science and engineering from the University of Massachusetts in 1991. Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, she pioneered new materials for aviation as a research chemist before being selected as an astronaut in 1992.

Top photo: Astronaut and ASU Global Explorer in Residence Cady Coleman talks about her adventures in space during her inaugural lecture at the Marston Theater in Tempe on Thursday. Coleman, a retired Air Force colonel, spent more than 180 days in space. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU leans into role as international presence and player in Washington, D.C.

March 28, 2019

Year-old location offers students unmatched experience in the nation’s capital; popularity pushes university to expand facilities

The Ambassador Barbara Barrett and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Washington Center at Arizona State University just turned 1, but success has it growing in stature and size.

The formula? Offer a one-of-a-kind urban experience in an intimate setting.

ASU students are discovering the nation’s capital is made up of more than just museums, government agencies and historic buildings. It also offers invaluable learning opportunities, real-world practice and rich cultural experiences in a major cosmopolitan city.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

“I’d describe my experience here as invaluable to my education,” said Cristian Payan, a graduate student in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. “You don’t get an opportunity like a personally guided tour of the U.S. Capitol by someone like Congressman David Schweikert every day — and when you do, you have to make the most of it.”

Payan has been living in Washington, D.C., since January. In addition to touring the Capitol, the Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, he said he’s taking law classes with professors of practice and is currently interning with the United States Agency for International Development. He’s also creating valuable networking opportunities that will come in handy when he graduates this May.

“Living here is a good way to gain some perspective on a national level,” Payan said.

ASU has long hosted students, faculty and staff in Washington, D.C., but with its dedicated 32,000-square-foot, eight-story center in a historic building at 1800 I St. NW, a mere two blocks from the White House, it has become an international presence and player in the nation’s most powerful city.

“We have massive visibility on a critical corner in downtown Washington, D.C. ASU is lit up in big letters, and it’s obvious to all that we are here,” said former Ambassador Michael C. Polt, senior director of leadership programs at the McCain Institute for International Leadership. “Policymakers, influencers and think-tankers around this town and from around the country come into this building. We are a convener for researchers, politicians and academics on important issues. Important decisions that affect a lot of Americans are made here, and ASU is now part of that conversation.”

Those issues are as deep and wide as the offerings and initiatives based at the Washington, D.C., location. In addition to the McCain Institute, the building also houses programs from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Cronkite News/Arizona PBS Washington Bureau, the Academy for Innovative Higher Education Leadership, the Center on the Future of War, the Global Security Initiative and the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, among others.

These programs are strategically placed and right where they need to be because it amplifies ASU’s voice in national conversations, said ASU’s Cheryl Bassett, the director of Combatting Human Trafficking Training Initiatives at the McCain Institute.

“Our location is fantastic because lots of national stakeholders are in the general vicinity of this building — because all roads lead to Washington, D.C.,” Bassett said. “We bring knowledge from the field to D.C. to think about issues on a national level. It certainly is the perfect place for us to develop partnerships.”

Those partnerships include think tanks, federal research agencies, policy councils, nonprofit organizations, national associations and other colleges and universities who are focused on society’s most pressing challenges related to education, health, economic development, the environment, social justice and other global issues.

The Washington, D.C., location also offers learning, teaching and research opportunities for students and faculty members that are simply not within reach elsewhere. For example, retired Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, former commanding general, now a senior adviser to both ASU President Michael Crow and the McCain Institute, offers a daylong applied leadership class at Gettysburg National Military Park once a semester.

“The center offers a constantly expanding menu of ASU learning opportunities,” Freakley said. “Students also participate in debates, hearings on Capitol Hill and attend think tank events focused on the leading issues both domestically and abroad. Our students return to ASU with new ideas and concepts to explore with faculty and fellow students, given their remarkable semester in Washington, D.C.”

For journalism major Imani Stephens, the city offered her “an opportunity to be on the front lines of history.”

“I reported on the passing of Arizona Sen. John McCain, the protests for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court hearings and the 2018 midterm elections,” said Stephens, who spent fall 2018 in the nation’s capital. “I had journalistic opportunities on the national level and reported alongside CNN, MSNBC, NBC and other network news organizations. And here I was a college student going up against veteran journalists who had been doing this a long time.”

In addition to reporting for Cronkite News, Stephens took an internship with CBS Evening News, interviewed high-level politicians, met with sorority sisters at nearby Howard University and visited historic stops throughout the city on Washington’s world-class Metrorail system.

“I was pushed out of my comfort zone, but it made me a more-rounded person,” Stephens said. “I’m so much more aware of things and issues today. You can’t learn if you stay in one city or town for the rest of your life.”

Payan and Stephens’ experience is typical of what can happen in Washington, D.C., said Julia Fromholz, a professor of practice at ASU Law.

“Students are able to get work experiences in organizations or agencies that just don’t exist outside of Washington, D.C.” said Fromholz, who serves as director of the International Rule of Law and Security program at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. “It’s given them a broader perspective of what they can do after they graduate.”

That perspective will be broadened for more students as the campus expands next week. In February, the Arizona Board of Regents approved a lease for an 8,400-square-foot space in a nearby building because programs at the location are becoming more popular and growing faster than expected. That’s not a surprise to Amanda Petersen, an ASU Law graduate who studied for a semester in Washington, D.C.

“The professors that teach courses in Washington, D.C., are extremely well-known in their respective fields, and it’s an awesome way to learn,” said Petersen, who graduated in May 2018 and now works for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. “The class sizes were also more intimate, and it gave us more time to get to know our classmates and instructors. You experience a lot together with a group of people.”

For Petersen, some of those one-of-a-kind experiences included watching President Donald Trump’s inauguration and the 2017 Women’s March, which took place a day later. She also experienced snow and cold weather and watched the cherry blossoms reach peak bloom in the spring.

“In many ways that semester in Washington, D.C., was like a study abroad experience,” Petersen said. “I think fondly of my time there.” 

Reporter , ASU Now