Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger seems like such an unlikely astronaut --riotously curly hair, and a bubbly personality, passionate about inspiring students. She is a far cry from the test pilots with the right stuff who flew the legendary Apollo missions.
At 34, "Dottie" is the youngest astronaut on the space shuttle Discovery crew, which is headed to the International Space Station this week after blasting off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sunday. She wasn't even alive when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and was only a toddler when Columbia flew on the first space shuttle mission, and yet somehow, she caught the space bug.
When she entered a contest to go to Space Camp, and came in second, with a consolation prize of a T-shirt, her parents, Keith and Joyce Metcalf scraped together enough money to send their daughter away to space camp. They laugh about that now. "Clearly it was money well spent".
NASA has sent teachers to space before, starting with Christa McAuliffe, who died in the Challenger accident in 1986. It would be 20 years before they would try again, with Barbara Morgan in 2007.
Metcalf-Lindenburger grew up in Fort Collins Colo., majored in geology in college and went on to teach high school science, most recently at Hudson's Bay High School in Vancouver, Wash. She runs marathons, and sort of shelved the idea of ever being an astronaut. Until one day in 2003 while researching a question from a student, "how do astronauts go to the bathroom in space?" She discovered NASA was once again recruiting teachers to become astronauts.
Some 8,000 teachers sent in applications, three were picked, including Metcalf-Lindenburger. In 2004, less than a year after the Columbia accident, she got the call while she was teaching a class – a call she was afraid to take in case of disappointing news. She called her mom, who recalled that day for ABC News. "We cried on the phone together, it was just so exciting to have her dream fulfilled."
Her sense of humor shines through as she talks about juggling the brutal training schedule, her marriage, and parenting her three-year-old daughter Cambria. She bubbles with laughter when talking about her very independent daughter. " We sing twinkle, twinkle – she is just turning 3, so and now it is very cool, she always points out the moon, probably because I pointed it out to her for a long period of time, she knows a couple of other songs that have to do with the moon and the sun and has started singing those on her own. Just like any good child she says 'no, no! No singing from you!' And I realize I probably told my mom that a couple of times too!"
You can catch Metcalf-Lindenburger on occasion, singing lead vocals for the astronaut band, Max Q, after a hard day learning the intricacies of space shuttle operation and finessing her skill as a robotics operator. What is she taking on her iPod on this mission? 'I have some show tunes, of course, I have to have some "wizard of Oz" stuff there, being a Dorothy, I love hymns, my great grandmother used to teach me some hymns, stuff like that, I like oldies, my husband's influences, '70s rock 'n' roll, and then of course I have new stuff too, relatively new'.
Metcalf credits her parents, and her younger sister Neva, for encouraging her to pursue her dream even though the odds were stacked against her. She keeps her life as normal as possible. "I try to keep every day normal. I have a normal cup of coffee, do my family stuff, and then come to work, but as it keeps approaching I keep thinking, we are probably really going to take off, unless the weather scrubs us or something, wow, this is going to be amazing!"
She dreams, she says, about her mission. "Sometimes I dream about floating around, in space, I have always dreamt a little bit about flying, and definitely have been dreaming about that more."