From SF State to the Moon
Astronaut prepares for her first space mission
September 28, 2005 5:24 PM
She’ll embark on a U.S. space shuttle with rocket boosters that will provide seven million tons of thrust. Two-and-a-half minutes into the flight, the shuttle’s three main engines, with a large fuel tank full of liquid oxygen and nitrogen, will take over. She'll be propelled further into space, going 17,500 miles per hour.
To think that once Col. Yvonne Cagle was just another undergraduate at SF State.
Ever since she was a little girl, Cagle showed a great interest in the field of science. Instead of engrossing herself in coloring books and Dr. Seuss, she would sneak into her father’s medical library and spend hours looking at X-ray pictures.
“The pictures in my father’s office were so interesting to me,” said Cagle with a soft chuckle. “They really grabbed my attention and I thought they were the coolest pictures I’d ever seen.”
She was born in West Point, New York and moved to Novato, California when she was in third grade. After graduating from Novato High School in 1977, she stayed close to home and attended SF State where she received a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in 1981.
“A bachelor’s in biochemistry includes all the course work required to enter medical school,” said Cliff Berkman, the department chair of chemistry and biochemistry. “It really shows you the fundamentals to enter a career in medicine.”
After graduating from SF State, Cagle attended the University of Washington. There she earned her doctorate in medicine in 1985. Cagle’s medical school tuition was paid for by an Air Force scholarship, which required her to spend the next several years in the military. She settled at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas, where she became a certified flight surgeon and enrolled in the aeromedicine program.
She started thinking about space travel after serving as the medical liaison for the Air Force and NASA-developing a contingency landing site for the space shuttle. Although she got to ride on jets as a flight surgeon for the pilots, she felt a need for even greater speed. Cagle’s definition of speed is different from most.
For some, going fast means putting a super charger in their souped-up car and pretending to be Paul Walker in The Fast and the Furious. For her, velocity means going five miles a second.
Upon joining NASA in 1996, Cagle became one of the 35 astronaut candidates picked from a group of 2,400 applicants. She completed the one-and-a-half year training program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. She is now one of only four African American women astronauts in the United States and a consulting professor of medicine at Stanford University.
In 1999, Cagle was selected as SF State’s Alumna of the year and she gave the University’s Centennial commencement keynote address. Cagle’s other honors include being named Outstanding Young Woman of America, receiving a Distinguished Scientist Award from the National Technical Association, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Air Force Achievement Medal.
“I haven’t been on a space mission yet,” said the 46-year-old astronaut physician. “But right now we are working intensely on a trip to the moon scheduled for 2016. It’s a ways from now but we want to make sure we get everything right.”
After going through the graduate program at the University of Washington, soaring on numerous fighter jets in the Air Force and working on cutting edge technology at NASA, Cagle still remembers her experience at SF State with great fondness.
“San Francisco State was really the best time of my life. It taught me the fundamentals of higher education and it was an awesome experience,” said Cagle. “It’s a great institution for those who yearn to learn and aspire for a greater future.”
She went from studying sub-cellular particles at one of the laboratories here at SF State to becoming a sub-cellular particle in the vastness of space. She’s a testament to all students. Perhaps most especially to those peering into microscopes and coughing up $1,500 a semester to attend SF State in hopes to fulfill their desires to reach for the stars.
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