Upon joining the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Saralyn Mark was surprised to find a that a French major had been working with NASA for 27 years.
“I thought, ‘How did you do that?'” said Mark, a biology major herself.
Mark, the senior medical adviser to NASA, spoke at a Trumbull Master’s Tea Wednesday afternoon to a group of approximately 10 students and professors about NASA’s wide-ranging appeal to students, even those not majoring in scientific disciplines. Mark also spoke about her work on women’s health and space travel and answered questions about the priorities of an increasingly international space program and criticisms of NASA’s budget.
Assuming a conversational tone that she maintained throughout the talk, Mark began by asking each of the students present about their tentative majors. Mark had evidently succeeded in attracting students interested in a variety of academic areas: religious studies, physics, film studies and mechanical engineering were some of the majors mentioned.
“There’s even a poet at NASA,” Mark said. “We have a broad cross-section of professions within NASA, I think because what we do there is very broad.”
Mark, whose work focuses on women’s involvement in the space program, said that the first female astronauts had to deal with prejudice.
“Women were asked, ‘Do you need to wear a bra in space? Do wrinkles get better in space?'” Mark said.
But women are overcoming these barriers today, Mark said. Currently, 25 percent of the “astronaut core” are women, and 30 have flown in space, she said.
Mark also spoke about the different biological responses of men and women to space travel. For example, although a number of male astronauts experience dizziness upon returning to earth, nearly all female astronauts do so, she said.
Mark’s role at NASA expanded after Sept. 11, 2001, when she became a public health specialist.
“All of a sudden we’re dealing with anthrax,” she said. “I helped NASA develop some planning looking at pandemic planning and other public health issues. My role has developed a bit. I wear many different hats at a typical day there. That’s what I love about it.”
Mark ended by showing a five-minute movie clip about the president’s vision for space exploration, which includes completing the international space station and traveling to Mars.
“When we’re talking about maybe going to Mars, we’re talking about your class — you,” Mark said.
Students had mixed reactions to Mark’s talk.
Jason Green-Lowe ’06 said he sensed that Mark’s “unambitious agenda” may have been to try to recruit students into the space program.
“I thought that what she said was interesting, even if it was a little bit disappointing,” he said. “She didn’t really challenge my imagination. It’s good to know somebody’s working with the things I’m daydreaming about, but I was hoping to add new daydreams.”
Other students said they enjoyed Mark’s talk.
Amanda Morin ’06 said she appreciated Mark’s interest in appealing to students from a variety of backgrounds.
“Being a religious studies major, to hear that there’s stuff out there for people in the humanities I thought was really interesting,” Morin said.
Trumbull College Master Janet Henrich said she was pleased that Mark had spoken.
“I thought this would be a great opportunity for students to hear about her work,” she said.
Mark said that although her initial attempts at finding a job with NASA were unsuccessful — women did not fly in space until 1983 — she fulfilled her lifelong dream of working with NASA seven years ago. With this in mind, Mark emphasized the importance of following’s one’s passions.
“You’ve got to find what you enjoy, and really go for it and do it with passion,” she said. “I think it’s really important to find the avenue and places you want to be so that you can share your passions.”