How Purdue astronaut Loral O’Hara fulfilled her childhood space dreams

Deep into preparation for her launch to the International Space Station, Loral O’Hara (MSAAE ’09) meets with a NASA public relations person. Talking with the press is part of the job; her alma mater’s media team is waiting for her.

O’Hara qualified for Purdue’s “Cradle of Astronauts” when NASA selected her for the astronaut corps in 2017. She has since been waiting, and continuing her preparation, for her flight to space. It’s finally coming.

Her launch aboard Soyuz MS-23, initially scheduled for May 2023, instead flew up empty. Recurring coolant leak issues with the Russian capsule had cosmonauts waiting for a backup ride home, and that had to be the one. Now, with a launch in September to talk about, she approaches the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility.

Tourists take pictures from the glassed-in walkway high above. Walking among full-scale representations of the new lunar Gateway, sections of the space station, and the Starliner and Soyuz capsules, she is nervous about what’s ahead – but the launch itself isn’t the reason.

She knows all the challenges of becoming and being an astronaut. She goes through them. And before long, she puts her finger on the hardest part of it all.

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