AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts alumna Catherine (Cady) Coleman is scheduled to return to space on July 20 when the space shuttle Columbia blasts off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The flight, designated Space Shuttle Mission STS-93, includes deployment of the Chandra X-ray Observatory, an X-ray telescope designed to deliver images of X-ray emissions from celestial objects such as comets, quasars, neutron stars, and black holes, according to NASA.
Several UMass colleagues of Coleman''s have been invited to the launch, including Thomas McCarthy, professor of polymer science and engineering, who was Coleman''s mentor at UMass, and department head Richard Farris. The goal of the five-day mission is to gain a better understanding of the structure and evolution of the universe. The images produced by Chandra are expected to be 10 times sharper than any produced by Earth-bound X-ray telescopes. Following the deployment of Chandra 155 miles above the Earth, 20 other scientific experiments will be performed.
McCarthy describes Coleman as a talented, hands-on research scientist. "The array of techniques that she learned in graduate school doing chemistry and polymer research make Cady a versatile experimentalist; now she does science in a number of disciplines," he said.
Coleman has retained close ties to the University since she earned her Ph.D. in 1991, returning to campus to receive an honorary doctoral degree at the dedication of the Conte National Center for Polymer Research in 1996. On her last space flight, she carried a UMass banner that is now displayed in the Conte center. And the department takes a certain degree of pride in noting that Coleman broke endurance and tolerance records when practicing in a NASA centrifuge that simulates high G forces. "Cady is a great spokesman for the University, for the polymer science department, for NASA, and a wonderful role model for women in science," said Farris. "We''re all going to be watching her and wishing her the best."
Coleman will be a mission specialist on the July 20 flight, according to NASA. She was a mission specialist on STS-73 (Oct. 20 to Nov. 5, 1995), logging more than 381 hours in space. She is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, a rank she holds while serving as a NASA astronaut. Coleman is a frequent visitor to western Massachusetts, and often visits local public schools in the area.