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Meet: Karina Shook

Aerospace Technologist
NASA Johnson Space Center

photo of karina shook

Who I Am

My official title is "aerospace technologist," but that's sort of a generic title and it doesn't really describe what I do. The group I work in is responsible for training the astronauts for their spacewalks. At NASA, we call a spacewalk an EVA - that stands for Extravehicular Activity. We teach the astronauts how to use the spacesuits and also how to do the job they're going to be doing while they're out EVA. We work with astronauts, payload customers and tool developers to develop the procedures the astronauts follow during the EVA. We also work in Mission Control during the EVAs to monitor both the spacesuits and the tasks the astronauts are doing. Photo of shook in EVA suit
This is a photo of me in the spacesuit. I was taking part in some testing of a new modification to the suit. It was a good opportunity for me to find out how difficult it is to work inside a pressurized spacesuit.

What I Do

In Mission Control, we monitor the astronauts while they check out their spacesuits before an EVA, keep a close eye on the performance of the spacesuits during the EVA, and assist in solving any problems that happen with either the suit or the tools that the astronauts are using. An example of that kind of problem solving was the extra EVA we added to the Hubble flight to repair some insulation on the telescope that had been damaged by exposure to the sun and was peeling away. The insulation protects sensitive electronics so we needed to make sure it will stay in place until the next Hubble servicing mission which will happen in about 3 years.

It was a little like the scene in Apollo 13 when the engineers on the ground had to figure out a way for the astronauts to make a new air filter for the spacecraft using only things that were onboard the spacecraft. Using some insulation repair materials, wire, cable ties and metal clips, all of which were onboard the Shuttle, the astronauts made some "band-aids" that will hold the insulation in place until the next flight.

We Use Many Different Facilities for Astronaut Training

We use many different facilities for astronaut training. We have a simulator for the spacesuit's Display and Control Module - the part on the front with the switches that control oxygen, power, water, ventilation, communications and temperature. We have several mockups (full-size models) of the space shuttle where astronauts learn how to put together and maintain their spacesuit and how to test it out before they do an EVA. We also teach the astronauts how to use all the many EVA tools that we fly on the shuttle. [Learn more about astronaut training facilities by reading Karina Shook's additional thoughts.]

My Career Journey

I got this job by having a bachelor's degree in engineering (my particular degree is in engineering mechanics and astronautics, but other people in my office have degrees in things like mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering or industrial engineering.) I was also a co-op student at NASA. A co-op student is a college student who takes a semester off of school and works in a real engineering job for that semester. Co-op students get paid pretty well, and they get real engineering experience that is very important for getting a job when they graduate. I worked in several different places within NASA as a co-op student - both at NASA Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and here at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Personal Information

I have two goldfish for pets. One is small and has a black stripe along his back and black on the tips of his fins. The other one is a dark orange fantail. I've never been good at thinking of names for fish, so they don't have names. Any ideas??

I Grew up in the Country with Lots of Pets

I grew up in Middleton, Wisconsin, which is about 8 miles from Madison, the capital of the state. Madison is built between four lakes and is a very pretty city. It's not a very big city though - only about 200,000 people live there. About 12,000 people live in Middleton. I grew up in the country with lots of pets (pony, goats, dog, cats...). Our yard also had fruit trees and a big garden, so I appreciate clean air and water, animals, flowers, and the quiet of the countryside. My parents still live in Middleton along with my youngest brother, who is 13. I have another brother who is in college in Milwaukee.

I went to college at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. I live in Houston, Texas, now, and I miss the snow! I love to do anything that involves being outdoors, like bicycling, running, horseback riding, hiking, camping, etc. I like lots of different kinds of music, but really enjoy classical. I play violin in a local orchestra, and also play piano and acoustic guitar. I would like to learn to hang glide someday - I did it once and it was an amazing feeling to soar almost like a bird!

I Read All the Black Stallion Books

When I was in elementary school, I read all the Black Stallion books, and I love horses so I wanted to be a jockey in horse races. I also enjoyed the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, and I thought it might be cool to be a detective someday. Then in 8th grade, the movie "The Right Stuff" came out (about America's first 7 astronauts), and I decided I wanted to be an astronaut. That's how I ended up working for NASA.

Living and Traveling in Europe

I have been fortunate to have many wonderful and interesting experiences that shaped my life. When I was in 4th grade, my family moved to The Netherlands (Holland) for a year because my dad (a dairy science professor) was working there. My brother and I didn't know a word of Dutch when we got there, but we went to a Dutch school there, so we learned to speak it. That year was a wonderful experience - we learned the language and learned about their culture, and toured all over the country as well as other parts of Europe. We still celebrate some of their holidays, like Sinterklaas Avond, which is the evening that St. Nicholas comes around to all the houses and puts treats in the wooden shoes of good little kids.

photo of shook on cross-country bike trip
This photo was taken on my cross-country bike trip as we crossed the Rocky Mountains in June of 1996. After high school, I went to England and Scotland on a tour with my Youth Orchestra. We even played a concert in Carnegie Hall! (in Dunfermline, Scotland, that is... :-). The summer after I graduated from college, I rode my bicycle across the United States - from San Francisco, California to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. That was an experience I will never forget, and the 70 other riders on the trip turned out to be some really amazing and interesting people from all over the country.

Likes/Dislikes About Career

There are many things that I love about my job. The biggest one is that we have a direct role in all the spacewalks that astronauts do. We help to develop specialized tools and procedures to get the job done, we train the astronauts to do the job, and then we get to work in Mission Control to make sure that everything goes as planned. There's a lot of work to be done, and a lot of variety. Every EVA is different - and poses new and different challenges. I also like working with people, which we do a lot of. We need to coordinate between the people who own the payload (such as Hubble), the people who design and build the tools, the astronauts, and other flight controllers. I also love the people I work with - they are all hard-working, enthusiastic, motivated people.

The thing I like least is that we have to do a lot of paperwork to document everything we do so that if something goes wrong we can hopefully figure out what happened and why, and also to keep track of why we do things a certain way so that years later if someone wants to do something similar they won't have to "re-invent the wheel." The paperwork is important, but it's not as fun as the other things we do. There are so many things that I love about my job, though, that I don't mind doing tedious paperwork sometimes.

My Future Plans and Goals

Soon, I will be involved with planning EVAs to assemble the International Space Station, and someday, I would like to see humans land on Mars. It would be even better if I could participate in getting them there!

Learn more from my NeurOn Chats
March 19, l998


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