The Astronaut: Scott Parazynski + Tracy Dennis
The inspiration behind Sandra Bullock's role in Gravity, the much decorated Scott Parazynski has conducted the most challenging and dangerous spacewalk in the history of space exploration. Here, Hunter College neuropsychologist Tracy Dennis analyzes the mindset required to endure these extreme missions.
Dr. Scott Parazynski trained at Harvard and in Denver in preparation for a career in emergency medicine and trauma. In 1992 he was selected to join NASA's Astronaut Corps and eventually flew five Space Shuttle Missions and conducted seven spacewalks (EVAs). In his 17 years as an astronaut, he served as EVA Branch Chief and the Lead Astronaut for Space Shuttle Thermal Protection System Inspection & Repair in the aftermath of the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy. Mission highlights include a global ozone mapping mission on STS-66; leading the first joint US-Russian spacewalk during STS-86 while docked to the Russian space station Mir; serving as Senator John Glenn's crewmate and "personal physician" during STS-95; and conducting EVA assembly of the Canadian-built space station arm during STS-100.
In October 2007, Dr. Parazynski led the EVA team on STS-120, a highly complex space station assembly flight, during which he performed four EVAs. The fourth and final EVA is regarded by many as one of the most challenging and dangerous ever performed. During the EVA he was positioned by a 90-foot robotic boom farther than any orbiting astronaut had ever ventured from the safety of their airlock. During this EVA he had to repair a fully energized solar array wing. The tremendous coordinated effort in orbit and on the ground by Mission Control and other engineering experts has been likened to the Space Shuttle and Space Station era's "Apollo 13 moment." All told, Dr. Parazynski has spent over eight weeks in space with more than 47 hours outside on spacewalks.
In addition to being a life-long scuba diver and accomplished mountaineer, Scott is also a commercial, instrument, multiengine and seaplane-rated pilot with over 2,500 flight hours. He began climbing in his teens, and has climbed in the Alaska Range, the Cascades, the Rockies, the Alps, the Andes and on his second attempt to scale Mt. Everest, on May 20, 2009, he became the first astronaut to stand on top of the world.
He currently serves as Director and Chief Medical Officer of UTMB’s Center for Polar Medical Operations in Galveston. He is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards, including five NASA Spaceflight Medals, two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, and two NASA Exceptional Service Medals.
Tracy Dennis is an Associate Professor in the Psychology Department at Hunter College and in the Behavioral Neuroscience and Biopsychology Doctoral Program at The City University of New York. She uses the tools of psychology and neuroscience to study emotions and our ability to regulate emotions as core building blocks of our mental and physical health. Current research topics include: a novel intervention for anxiety that retrains patterns of attention to threat, a “stress vaccine” app, core neurobehavioral processes supporting our ability to regulate emotions, and mindfulness and relaxation techniques targeting at-risk teens to improve health and coping. Dr. Dennis returns to The Rubin after having appeared with Congressman Tim Ryan at last year’s Brainwave.