Sunday, June 5, 2011

San Pedro Astronaut Blasts Off Into Space

After a brief delay due to high-altitude crosswinds, former San Pedro resident Dr. Anna Lee Fisher launched into space on November 8, 1984 on board the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Anna L. Fisher, (M.D.)
NASA Astronaut, NASA photo

On this historic 8-day mission, Dr. Fisher and her fellow astronauts deployed two satellites, operated the Radiation Monitoring Equipment device, conducted an experiment for 3M Company, and completed the first space salvage mission by recovering two disabled satellies (Westar 6 and Palapa B-2).  Dr. Fisher operated the shuttle's robotic arm during the satellite rescue operation.

She also became the first mother in space.

While in space, the Discovery crew spoke with President Reagan, who asked Fisher if she would recommend a space career to her 14-month-old daughter.  She replied: "That I would Mr.'s truly an incredible experience..."

The Los Angeles Times reported that Dr. Fisher once had to keep secret the fact that she was pregnant.  In a training exercise, she rescued an "unconscious" crew member from the launch pad in a simulated emergency. As she recalled: "It was a hot day in Florida, and I had breathing equipment on, and I carried somebody out of the commander's seat and another guy out of the pilot's seat. And nobody knew I was pregnant."

As they prepared for descent to earth, the Discovery crew was concerned about a small amount of leftover maneuvering fuel aboard the two retrieved satellites, but a spill was considered unlikely and they would have been able to jettison the satellites if needed.  During their in-flight news conference, the astronauts said that the recovery of the two disabled satellites proved that "astronauts can move large objects by hand in the weightlessness of space."

STS 51-A crew in training with shuttle Discovery on launch pad;
October 25, 1984. Anna Lee Fisher (2nd from right) NASA photo
About a month after the successful landing, Dr. Fisher returned triumphantly to her hometown of  San Pedro where she received a very warm welcome. She addressed about 1000 students at San Pedro High School, her alma mater where she had earned the title "most likely to succeed."

Fisher (who has three degrees -- including an M.D. -- from UCLA)  stressed the importance of education, and said "Don't be afraid to dream, because there are a lot of neat opportunities out there."

She also attended a plaque dedication in her honor, a plaque located adjacent to the Los Angeles Maritime Museum that is still well-maintained twenty-seven years later. To see a recent photo of this plaque, click here.

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of meeting Anna Lee Fisher several years ago when she visited her mother Elfriede Tingle in San Pedro, when her mother still lived there.  Mrs. Tingle was my neighbor, and it's my privilege to have met and know such two wonderful and interesting people.

Dr. Anna Lee Fisher's current NASA biography here; latest Space Shuttle news here.

Sources: NASA, Los Angeles Times