Anna Lee Fisher boasts quite an impressive resume. A chemist, an emergency physician and a NASA astronaut – she was also the first mom to go to space in November of 1984.
Now, Fisher is embarking on a new journey and adding “instructor” to her resume as she joins the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Aviation Safety and Security Program.
“I was so impressed by this program that when I was asked to join, I said yes, even though I’m a triple Bruin,” Fisher said with a smile.
The internationally recognized USC Aviation Safety and Security Program, now in its 70th year, was the first of its kind in the world. The program has educated more than 10,000 aviation professionals, including Jim Lovell, the astronaut who commanded NASA’s Apollo 13 mission, and Charles Bolden, the 12th Administrator of NASA who piloted both the space shuttle Columbia and Discovery missions.
Growing up, Fisher moved across the country from military base to military base as an Army brat, but she considers San Pedro, California her hometown. A San Pedro High School graduate, she went on to receive a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and a Doctor of Medicine degree from UCLA before returning there to earn a Master of Science in Chemistry.
Fisher became the first mom in history to go to space when she was assigned to the mission STS-51-A, where she and her team engaged in NASA’s first salvage mission to bring two satellites back to earth. While in space, Fisher operated the Remote Manipulator System (RMS) to physically retrieve the satellites.
“That ride on the shuttle is the most amazing eight and a half minutes to get into earth’s orbit that you could ever imagine,” said Fisher, “and then the view from space is just, words just aren’t adequate.”
“I think the more people that get to see our planet from that vantage point will realize just how precious it is and how lucky we are to have this amazing planet to live on.”
At the time of the mission, which included eight days in space and a week of quarantine, Fisher had a 14-month-old daughter waiting for her at home. She still vividly remembers the moment she found out that she was selected to travel to space.
“I was eight months pregnant,” Fisher said, “and shocked when I was told I was assigned to a crew. I thought, well, they think I can do it, and I’m certainly not going to say no. I had my daughter, Kristin, on a Friday, and I was back at a NASA meeting on Monday. I had a responsibility to carry out my mission.”
Fisher, who flew on The Space Shuttle Discovery, said she discovered resiliency in herself and its value while at NASA.
The new course she will teach at USC Viterbi will inform students about human performance and how to improve personal and professional resilience.
“The idea is that the shuttle astronauts must often face new innovative problems and demonstrate resilience in their missions. That’s why Anna is here,” said Thomas Anthony, director of USC Viterbi’s Aviation Safety and Security Program. “She’s a wonderful asset to the team, and we’re glad to have her.”
Anthony says the course will help students identify hazards, make mitigations and influence important decisions creatively.
Fisher has first-hand experience facing new problems and overcoming challenges at NASA when she was a part of a team investigating what went wrong after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.
“In the NASA shuttle program, we’ve had two major accidents with Challenger and Columbia,” Fisher explained. “This course will delve into how you develop organizational resilience after something like that happens.”
Fisher often speaks to young students and adults fascinated by her experience as an astronaut. During those conversations, she says she frequently finds herself emphasizing how vital resiliency has been at every step in her journey.
“When people ask me what’s your one word of advice, you’d give someone. It’s perseverance,” she said, “Don’t give up on something you want. You shouldn’t accept failure or defeat.”
The new course is expected to begin in the fall of 2023.
Published on March 22nd, 2023
Last updated on March 22nd, 2023