July 20, 1969 – A date that lives in history – when two Americans landed on the moon. It was a day of American pride, of heroism, and of making the impossible, possible.
With a lunar landing, space exploration became even more attainable; questions were beginning to be answered, and our beloved American astronauts and scientists began discovering the secrets of the universe. Dreams became reality and our world changed forever.
As more and more space flights were imagined and ultimately completed, colleges and universities began to offer more exploratory courses, and American students were inspired to continue doing the impossible with a new glimmer of hope.
But not for everyone. Women were simply precluded from flying in space for decades. As a young girl, Mary Ellen Weber, never considered that she could one day be an astronaut.
“That would have been like saying I wanted to be the Tooth Fairy,” she comments often in her speeches and presentations.
But, in 1983, as a student at Purdue University, Mary Ellen saw an ad in the school newspaper, The Exponent, for the Purdue Skydiving Club.
Although she thought she had convinced a few other chemical engineering classmates to give it a try, she was the only one to show up at the designated meeting place. Skydiving has since become more mainstream with the advent of “tandem” skydiving, but back then it was done with military parachutes and “belly-mounted” reserves, and by using a “static line” tethering the solo student to the plane to deploy the chute.
This rather harsh taste of skydiving nevertheless led to a lifelong commitment to skydiving and aviation. Not only does she still skydive, she is currently training to compete for her 19th year at the U.S. National Championships this October. More importantly, it ultimately led to her accomplished career as a scientist, aviator, and NASA Astronaut.
It was not only a taste of skydiving at Purdue that changed her life, but it was there that joined the Delta Epsilon Chapter of Phi Mu:
“Phi Mu has truly helped to create who I am and shape the woman I have become. I am grateful for the friendship and support Phi Mu provided me throughout my collegiate experience – and for my ongoing relationships with fellow Phi Mu alumnae. Without a doubt, what I’ve gained from my Phi Mu membership is truly irreplaceable.”
Weber then continued her education with a Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkley and further went on to receive her M.B.A. at Southern Methodist University.
“As I graduated from Purdue University, a scholarship from Phi Mu Foundation helped me to achieve my goal of a Ph.D. in chemistry. Who knew that would lead to my becoming an Astronaut and flying in space?! You just never know what dreams you will one day dream and what doors currently closed to you will one day open. The Foundation scholarships are all about enabling and preparing young Phi Mus to be able to achieve those dreams and walk through those doors.
Weber was among the youngest astronauts to fly in space, logging over 450 hours with two spaceflights: Discovery, a mission that successfully delivered to orbit a critical $200 million NASA communications satellite above the equator, and Atlantis, a critical early mission to construct the International Space Station. As the recipient of the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, she leaves quite a legacy at NASA.She now resides in Dallas, where she continues her career as a consultant and motivational speaker.
Empowering those around her, she continually shares her message and encourages others to “be prepared with the knowledge, education and credentials that will enable you succeed in the profession you think will pursue—but also in professions you may ultimately pursue, professions you haven’t yet thought of.”
If you want to thrive and find your true passions, she adds, “You also need to be open to trying new things and seeking out new experiences.”
To learn more about Dr. Mary Ellen Weber, and hear firsthand what it was like during her journey to space, you’re invited to join us at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science on August 12, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. for Phi Mu’s first Cocktails & Conversation event in Dallas. Register HERE.
Source: E. Gilbert, Alumnae Engagement Coordinator, July 23, 2015.