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NEWS | June 23, 2021

NASA Astronaut Sends Message to ISR Contestants

By Edvin Hernandez, NSWC Carderock Division

Houston, do you copy?

Megan McArthur, a former International Submarine Race (ISR) contestant and now NASA Astronaut, delivered an inspiring message to this year’s virtual ISR 16 contestants from the International Space Station. Although ISR competitions are usually held in-person and hosted biennially at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division in West Bethesda, Maryland, this year’s edition of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) event operated exclusively online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In her remarks to the teams participating in ISR 16, McArthur encouraged the next generation of STEM professionals to continue chasing their dreams.

“I’m so glad to know that students are still innovating and competing in the International Submarine Races,” McArthur said. “I’m sorry it is not possible for you to be in the water at Carderock this year, but this is still a unique opportunity to learn and grow. It is absolutely true that my participation changed my life.”

At the time of ISR 3, which was the last time the prestigious competition was held in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, McArthur was nominated by her team to pilot her school’s human-powered submarine. She was selected because she was the only one who could fit in the small, tightly packed space.

“I was the smallest person on the team, so I was assigned the pilot role in our two-person sub,” she said. “I was the only one that could fit into the space leftover after we built the sub around our powerhouse bicycler.”

One of the most important requirements before piloting a human-powered submarine is to become scuba certified. McArthur admitted, however, that swimming was not her forte.

“As someone who was not a strong swimmer, and a little afraid of the ocean, this was something of a challenge,” she said. “But meeting that challenge helped me grow stronger, and I fell in love with the ocean along the way.”

While winding down her undergraduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, McArthur was mainly interested in space exploration, but during her participation in ISR, a new interest in ocean exploration blossomed.

“I was studying aerospace engineering at UCLA, hoping to one day work for NASA and maybe even become an astronaut,” McArthur said. “I really wanted to do space exploration, but now I wanted to do ocean exploration, too. I met Dr. Kathy Sullivan at the end-of-the-race barbecue by the beach. She told me, ‘You need to figure out what it is you love doing and then work really hard to be as good as you can be doing that thing.’ She said, ‘Don’t try to guess what NASA will want and pursue something just for that reason. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you’re never going to be good at it. And if you’re not good at it, you’re not going to get selected by NASA.’”

Sullivan’s message – especially as a former NASA astronaut – connected well with McArthur as she was accepted into the NASA astronaut program, eventually fulfilling her dream. McArthur was assigned to STS-125, which was the fifth final Hubble repair mission in May 2009. She was the Mission Specialist/Robotic Arm Operator who had to grab the slowly spinning Hubble, wrestle it into the shuttle bay and fly an astronaut “repairman” around on the end of the robotic arm making repairs.

McArthur always had space exploration on her mind, and her career is a testament to all the hard work, commitment and dedication she had to achieve her goal. ISR, however, connected her with the right professionals.

“I am where I am today, because of the human-powered submarine races,” she said. “In 1993, I was sitting where you are sitting this evening. Had I not been a human-powered submariner, I would not be an astronaut.”

This STEM competition continues to provide a platform for students to discover and explore their passions. ISR showcases the talents of promising future STEM professionals like McArthur, who concluded her message to contestants with a good piece of advice.

“Through this project, you’re getting a strong foundation in team work and finding innovative solutions to challenges,” she said. “This will serve you well and don’t forget to find that passion. It might take a while, or you might change your mind – and that’s ok. As long as you keep learning, challenging yourself and keep trying new things, you’re on the right path. Don’t forget to share your dreams with the people around you.”

To see the full video, visit the Carderock YouTube site:

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