MU professor brings experiences in space to her classroom

Physics and Astronomy professor Linda Godwin: “It’s like a whole new invention of myself; it’s very different than the life I was living, working for NASA.”

During her 30 years at NASA, physics and astronomy professor Linda Godwin went to space for four different missions and assisted numerous others in various support roles.

In 2010, she was ready for something new.

“I just felt like it was the time to end that career,” Godwin said. “I had been there long enough to retire.”

Not ready to stop working, Godwin decided to embark on a new adventure and took a teaching job at MU.

“I had many ties back here, and to the Midwest, so I came back,” Godwin said. “It’s like a whole new invention of myself. It’s very different than the life I was living, working for NASA.”

When she was young, Godwin enjoyed reading science fiction. She was fascinated by “the stories about people that you could weave around that type of genre.” Inspired partially by this interest, she studied physics and math before beginning her doctorate at MU.

Godwin found fellow graduate students who shared her love of the subject while at MU.

“When she was a student here, there was a small group of graduate students that liked to hang out, and to go to science-fiction movies,” physics and astronomy curators’ professor Meera Chandrasekhar said. “Some part of our relationship dates back to when we went to the first Star Trek movie.”

Little did Godwin know that her life would end up mirroring one of her beloved science fiction stories.

“I didn’t see any connection with where I was in my life, outside of Jackson, Missouri, and NASA,” Godwin said.

During the final year of Godwin’s doctoral program, NASA began actively seeking to recruit women to their program. Intrigued, Godwin began researching. When she found openings specifically for “science astronauts,” she applied. Though her application to the astronaut program was denied, she was offered a job in a support role.

“I thought, ‘Well, this is the path to what I really want to do,’” Godwin said.

In 1980, she joined NASA as a flight controller and payloads officer in Mission Control. Five years later, she was selected as an astronaut candidate. Godwin officially became an astronaut in July 1986.

From there, Godwin began training to go to space.

“Our days were controlled by whatever our scheduler handed us,” Godwin said. “It could be some classroom lessons, some time in the simulator, some time in the water tank, some time with robotics.”

Her training paid off. Godwin served four different space shuttle missions, twice on Atlantis and twice on Endeavor.

“What I loved to do the most was to look out and watch the sky for a little bit,” Godwin said. “Even though the shuttle was moving several miles per second, there was no sensation of that speed because there was nothing really close.”

Godwin currently teaches Intro to Astronomy and Physics of Space Exploration. In both classes, she shares her real-world applications of the material.

“When I’m teaching astronomy, I like to throw in some things about space,” she said. “Or maybe I can tie in, ‘Here’s what I did in the world that used this science and this physics.’ I can say that I used some of this in the real world, and this physics really works.”

Edited by Kyra Haas | khaas@themaneater.com

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