The International Space Station fills several roles for NASA—providing a toehold in outer space for human activity, testing closed-loop technologies for long-duration spaceflight, and developing international partnerships. But perhaps the station’s biggest selling point is science. It was, after all, designated a national laboratory in 2005. And what does a lab need? Scientists.
Yet despite the vastly increased diversity of the astronaut corps since the early, macho days of the Mercury 7, many astronauts today are still fighter pilots, engineers, and surgeons. Relatively few are bonafide research scientists. But Kate Rubins is, and she spent 115 days on the space station this summer and fall. Before becoming an astronaut, Rubins trained in molecular biology and led a laboratory of more than a dozen researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She and her team specialized in viruses such as Ebola and Marburg, and their field work took them to Central and Western Africa.
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