Dan Huot (Host): Houston, We Have a Podcast. Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center. This is Episode 36: Teacher on Board. I’m Dan Huot, and I will be your host today. If you’re new to the show, we bring in NASA experts, the scientists, the engineers, and astronauts all to tell you everything NASA. So today we’re talking with Ricky Arnold. He’s a US astronaut, and he’s about to launch to the International Space Station in March for his second space flight and first his ride up in a Russian Soyuz. We talked about his education, how he started out as an accountant and then went to marine sciences, went on to a teacher, and eventually became an astronaut. He flew on the Shuttle, and now he’s about to fly on the International Space Station. So with no further delay, let’s go light speed and jump right ahead to our talk with Ricky Arnold. Enjoy. [ Music ] Host: So Ricky Arnold, teacher, astronaut, world traveler, and now most importantly, Houston, We Have a Podcast guest. Ricky, thanks so much for joining me this morning. How are you doing? How’s training going? You getting ready to go to space? Ricky Arnold: Oh, yeah. Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here. I’m getting close. I only — this is my — I’m finishing up my US training this week. I’ve got a couple of weeks off to kind of take care of things here, around the office, and at home. I head over to Russia in early February. And we do all of our final training for the Soyuz, for our launch vehicle to get us to the Space Station and back, take our final exams, and then head off to Baikonur and launch in March. Host: Big test day coming up. Ricky Arnold: We have our finals coming up. So — you’re never through with final exams. Host: Yeah. No matter what you think, kids, the test will always come back around. So I notice you’re already doing stuff for science right now. They already have you giving sample and all kinds of things. Ricky Arnold: Oh, yeah. Host: This isn’t just a six-month stint you guys sign up for, is it? Ricky Arnold: No, no. In addition to the training, you are a test subject. So one of the big things we’re trying to learn on the International Space Station is how does a human body change in outer space? And if those changes are for the worse, what are some countermeasures we can use to help protect astronauts? So when we go off into deep space for really long stays, how can we protect people who are going to go execute those missions? So I’ve started as a test subject last year. And I’ve been providing stuff to our doctors in the clinic and will continue to do that on the International Space Station, send it home. And then when I land, the journey continues in terms of being a test subject. I was telling you, I can come back to NASA for the rest of my life once a year for a physical just so the doctors can keep tabs on what has happened after spending time in outer space. Host: That’s a long project. Ricky Arnold: It’s a long project. Host: That’s a long project. All right. Well, I want to kind of dive into how Ricky Arnold became an astronaut. Because you have a pretty unique journey for somebody in the astronaut corps. And there’s one thing I wanted to jump on right off the because — Ricky Arnold: It is atypical. Host: I was a business major in school. And I see you had a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Ricky Arnold: That is true. Host: How did that come to pass and how the heck did they let a business major into the astronaut corps? Ricky Arnold: I went to off to college when I was 17 years old. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was out of town. The week you went up and got all the freshman counseling and orientation. So I literally arrived on campus with classes starting in three days and signed up for no classes. I found out where I was living, and I met with a counselor. And he said, “Well, what are you good at?” And meanwhile he’s looking at the roster of classes to see what’s even available. Because most of the stuff’s already been filled up. And then he said, “Are you good at numbers?” I’m good at numbers. Okay, good, Accounting 101’s opened up. Oh, okay. So I ended up taking an accounting class. And I’ve always been okay with numbers. And still wasn’t really sure exactly what I wanted to do, so I took Accounting II. Ended up my sophomore year taking the hardest part of accounting, which is the intermediate accounting, which is kind of where people decide to drop out of accounting because it’s very, very complicated classes. And I got through that. And at that point, I had signed up and taken a geology class as an elective. And it was a geology class and really enjoyed it. And I had an interest in science from when I was much younger. And so then I took Biology 101. And these were just as my electives while I was still getting my accounting degree. And I took biology — the second, Biology II. I ended up with a biology minor to go along with my bachelor’s degree in accounting. Host: I bet you were a rare breed. Ricky Arnold: I was. People, on the roster, when I would show up for these advanced-level biology classes, the teachers, they always had the majors listed there. They said, “Hey, Arnold, are you in the right class?” Said, “Yeah, yeah, I’m just taking this for fun. I’m taking this morphology of the halophytes just for fun.” Host: Oh, that sounds like a blast. Ricky Arnold: And much like many students who went off to school, you know, I didn’t have unlimited resources for college. So I needed to graduate with a degree. But by the end of my sophomore year, beginning of my junior I already knew I really wasn’t going to make it as an accountant. I had other things I wanted to do. But I went ahead and got my degree and then continued taking electives in community college while working to get into graduate school at the University of Maryland in marine sciences. Host: And so you graduated with the BS in accounting, and then you just pivoted — because it sounds like you found something — Ricky Arnold: I did. Host: — that you were interested in. Ricky Arnold: Right. But I just couldn’t stay at college forever. So I went to work, I went to community colleges, took chemistry, physics, calculus, all the things I needed to do to get into graduate school to pursue an advanced degree in the sciences. Host: And so where did you go to grad school? What was that degree? Ricky Arnold: Went to University of Maryland. And they have a marine and estuarine environmental science program. Because we are right — you know, I grew up right by the Chesapeake Bay. Host: I grew up in Delaware. Ricky Arnold: Oh, so you know exactly. So you can’t limit yourself to oceanography in Maryland because there’s too many different types of bodies of water. So they cover all their bases — marine and estuarine. And it was a research-based program. I worked over at the Horn Point Environmental Lab on my project and actually did some — I ended up doing some sediment geochemistry of the Severn River right near Annapolis. So we’re a subtributary of the Severn River. So yeah, it wasn’t a typical journey. Host: Well, so you got the biology. Ricky Arnold: And then how did you end up teaching? Host: Well, yeah. And so did you — was teaching ever kind of in your mind at that point when you were going through school? Because, again, we’re hopping around. [ Multiple Speakers ] Ricky Arnold: It’s not like a lot of people I work with who knew they wanted to fly airplanes and go to space when they were three years old — that just wasn’t me. When I got out of school, I had a temporary job down in DC. And this was a time where Christa McAuliffe was, you know, announced as being one of the members of the Challenger mission. And I remember thinking distinctly like, “Wow, that’s pretty impressive that NASA recognizes the kind of people we have working in our nation’s public schools.” Host: Oh, yeah. Ricky Arnold: And but it really wasn’t — that certainly probably played a role in formulating an opinion of being an educator. But one of the jobs I was working while I was taking classes at community college, I got a job at the United States Naval Academy working in the oceanography department. And I was just taking care of their scientific equipment. I was doing the maintenance for their equipment. I was going out on the yard patrol vessels where you’re doing projects and I was deploying the equipment for professors and students. And I also got to work with some of the midshipmen there. And that’s really what set the bit. Okay, you know what? I think this is something I really want to do. So my plan at that point — finally a light bulb went off a couple years after getting out of college. Host: I’ll be a teacher. Ricky Arnold: I’m going to be a teacher. And I have all my prerequisites to get into graduate school. So I’m going to go get my teaching certificate, do my student teaching. And then almost as soon as I started teaching, I took job in Charles County, Maryland. And my second semester teaching there, the second half of the year, I started taking classes at the University of Maryland in their graduate program and then enrolled the following fall. So it was busy. I was a first-year teacher starting my second year of teaching, going to graduate school at night in the sciences. And it was pretty busy. But I knew what I wanted to do at that point. So I was doing a job I loved. And my evenings were spent in science and my weekends. So it was all good. Host: What did you start off teaching? Ricky Arnold: I started off teaching middle school science. Host: Okay. Ricky Arnold: Yeah. Host: And so what grades — because — Ricky Arnold: Seventh grade to start off with. And I think I had two eighth grade classes as well. Host: But you went on to teach high school, right? Ricky Arnold: I did. Host: Did you have a favorite grade to teach? Ricky Arnold: Well, I — yes, I liked teaching high school, some of the advance college preparatory classes just for the material and the learning. But my favorite class to teach — which is my background’s really in biology. Host: Yeah. Ricky Arnold: I taught an eighth grade physical science class, which was a combination of introductory physics and chemistry. And I just really enjoyed that a lot because there’s so many foundational principles there. If you can teach a kid to read a periodic table — not memorize it, which is what I was taught to do — but to actually read it and — [ Multiple Speakers ] Yeah, the material. All you need to know about chemistry’s right here and how atoms work together. So I just found it was just the right amount of material to kind of spark a kid’s interest in that field and set them on a trajectory where if they showed up in a chemistry class in high school or in college that they would have the tools to be successful. Host: So I mean, I could trace back to a teacher very vividly who kind of set me on my on path. Do you kind of wonder if you were able to? Because, I mean, now you’re an astronaut and it’s a very visible job. But like you said, it was pretty incredible for NASA to recognize the people who are doing this stuff in public school. Ricky Arnold: Right. Host: Did you ever think about that, you know, you’re setting these kids hopefully up for a life in the sciences or math or anything like that? Ricky Arnold: I hope so. I mean, you know, there are kids when they walk into your classroom, you know they’re going to be remarkable things. And if I played — you know, it’s possible I played a small part in it. But it’s unlikely. There are kids who come who just — you know they’re going to go off and do amazing things. But that’s only a handful, right? Everyone else, I think, is more like I was. And I wasn’t really all that certain. So. Host: Just trying to find your way still? Ricky Arnold: Yeah, yeah. So just to present options and let them know there are exciting career choices out there. I still keep in touch with a few former students. And like I said, some have gone on to do amazing things. And but, you know, I don’t know that — maybe I played a small part. But, you know, there’s a reason you go to school for 12 years before going to college. It’s you get different teachers, different experiences, different backgrounds. And I think that all shapes the whole. Host: All right. So you’re busting in Maryland, you’re going to school, you’re teaching; how the heck did you end up in Morocco? How did that happen? Ricky Arnold: Yeah, I love to read when I was a — I still love to read. And I’m kind of a victim of my love of reading. Because I like reading about different places, and different cultures, different things, different ideas. And I had been teaching for four years in Maryland. I had just finished graduate school and graduated. And I picked up a Washington Post on a Sunday morning and there was an advertisement in the classified section, which I hardly ever looked at but this Sunday I happened to. And it said — the headline was “Are you interested in teaching overseas?” I was like, “I’m interested in going overseas. I hadn’t really considered teaching there as a means to get there.” So I called the number and went to this presentation. It so happens the gentleman who was putting this thing on had been a headmaster at a school in Tangier, Morocco. So he started off telling the story about, you know, living in exotic Morocco, his experience. And I was like, “Oh, wow. This is something that” — Host: Sign me up. Ricky Arnold: Really, sign me. How do I do that? Well, it doesn’t quite unfold like that. You go to these interview fairs. We actually went into a big room and they had the jobs posted on the walls from different locations all around the world. So you could be going to — there’s the international school of Tanzania. We have these openings. There’s the international school of you name it. And I ended up getting hired as a biology — high school biology and middle school teacher and science teacher in Casablanca, Morocco. Host: Wow. Ricky Arnold: And so [Laughs] a year later after going to that thing, I was stepping off a plane in Casablanca and making my way to my new apartment in North Africa. Host: I mean, that had to be — had you ever traveled outside the country before that? Ricky Arnold: You know, my wife and I were both teachers. And we were newly married, too, when we moved there. No, I’d been to — Host: Did you at least leave Maryland? Ricky Arnold: I’d left Maryland. I’d been to Ecuador because a gentleman who worked in Charles County would put together these trips in the summer, like, professional development programs. And one of them was down to the Galapagos. So I’d been down there. I’d been probably to Canada and maybe to Mexico but not really. Host: Not something just totally outside your element? Ricky Arnold: Not — not — yeah. Host: I mean, what was it like to make that move? Ricky Arnold: I don’t know, I just enjoyed the community that we got to know. I enjoyed the diversity of ideas with the students that you taught. We had kids from all over the world, the different languages and the opportunity to try to learn some languages. It was challenging, but I think it was a very, very rewarding part of my life. Host: But that was just stop number one. Ricky Arnold: Yeah. Host: Where else did you teach? Ricky Arnold: Yeah, we lived in Casablanca for three years. And my daughter was born when we were living there. My oldest daughter. We then moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and my youngest daughter was born there. And we lived there for five years. And then I think we had enough — we had the Mediterranean climate, we had the desert — and we ended up going to the jungles of Indonesia, teaching at a small school in [inaudible] or West Papua, Indonesia. So on the island of New Guinea. And then two years there. And then finally a year in Bucharest, Romania. And from there I was hired to come to NASA. Host: And so everything we do now with the Space Station is international — it’s right there in the name. Did your experience, you know, kind of being a little bit of a globetrotter there for a little while, did that play into your role as an astronaut now? Do you look back and say, “I’m really glad I did that because none of this seems so daunting”? Ricky Arnold: I’m glad I did it for myself just because of the opportunity for learning. But I naively — when I came here for my interview, I really had no false expectations about getting a job as an astronaut. I mean, when I applied, I thought, “Hey, this is going to be a really, really awesome rejection letter to hang in my office.” Host: This will be a good story [Laughs]. Ricky Arnold: Yeah, this will be a good story. And then when I got the interview and I came in here, I was like, well — I mean, I really had no expectations. But then I thought — we have this one-hour — the interview process itself is a week. Most of it is medical. There’s all kind of aptitude tests and those kind of things, along with some tours. But you have a one-hour interview with a fair number of highly-experienced astronauts and some other folks with the agency. And it’s like, “Well, when I get to that interview, surely they’re going to ask me about my international experience.” And so I thought that might be kind of a good thing to be able to talk about. Host: Yeah. Ricky Arnold: And it turns out in between when I got out of school and was working those jobs to get into graduate school, I had worked on a sail training vessel for not quite a half-year. We sailed all over the Atlantic. And I was an assistant science on board this vessel. It was like, you know, four months, five months. I figured that’s hardly even worth mentioning on a resume. That was the only thing the interview committee asked me about. And now it makes sense. I was deploying scientific equipment in an extreme environment, you know, late at night, you know, early in the morning. There was always an element of risk involved with the job. You were living on a small ship with 30-some other people and you were part of the crew. So — but I do think — getting back to your question, I mean, at least having some experience overseas kind of prepared me for the travel back and forth to Russia and the amount of time we spent there and in Germany and in Japan as well. Host: Wow. Well, so now you’re getting ready to fly. This will be your second time. Ricky Arnold: Right. Host: You’ve been to the Space Station once? Ricky Arnold: Right. Host: But that was short. Ricky Arnold: It was. Host: It’s going to be a whole new ballgame. Ricky Arnold: Sure is. Host: Are you really excited about this? Are you excited? Because we always hear from astronauts when they did the short Shuttle missions, it was like you’re just getting a little taste of it and you never really feel like you’re there. You can’t soak it in. Are you really look forward to kind of stretching your legs and hanging out in microgravity for six months? Ricky Arnold: Well, I am. I mean, six months is a long time. And so that’s going to be a completely different mind shift from a very short duration mission where you just got to go, go, go, go, go, go, and then sleep when you get home. You just can’t do that for six months. Host: No. Ricky Arnold: However, you know, it was really exciting part of my career to be able to go help finish the construction of the International Space Station. After we left, we were able to go from three to six crew, start doing a lot more of the science. And, of course, we’re just a small part in the chain. But we provided the power to make all that happen. And that was really exciting. But now I get to go kind of live and work there. You know, the assembly’s pretty much done. We’re just going to go up and take advantage of everyone else’s hard work and then try to do a good job, you know, doing what the Space Station was intended — why it was built. Host: Well, I mean, last time, so you were building it. This time you’re going to be one of those scientists. Does that almost have you more excited because of your background of always being interested in that kind of stuff? Ricky Arnold: It does. It’s a bit intimidating, too. When you go to the Space Station, your building part of it. We knew after one EVA that our mission was more or less a success. Right? We were up there on the fifth day in space, we got the S6 truss installed. The next day we deployed the solar arrays. Another book checked. And then anything after that was kind of gravy, right? It worked, it was all good. Here your responsibility, you know, there’s a lot of people around the world who have spent their entire career trying to get a payload into space or an experiment in space and you don’t want to be the link that makes — that kind of crushes their dreams, you know? Because you made a mistake. And it’s going to happen, right? But you got to minimize it and, you know, just go up and do the best job you can. Host: And as a former teacher, can I call you a former teacher? Ricky Arnold: Sure. Host: Or do you still consider yourself a teacher? Ricky Arnold: Kind of still. Host: Are you going to go back to teaching? Ricky Arnold: Maybe. Maybe. I’ve thought about it. I’m right now at the halfway point. I’ve been an astronaut as long as I’ve been a teacher. But I still kind of call myself a teacher. Host: Well, astroteacher Arnold. Ricky Arnold: Yeah [Laughs]. Host: So you’re not going to just be doing the science, you’re going to be bringing the Station into classrooms down here on earth as part of the Year of Education on Station. Ricky Arnold: Right. Host: I mean, talk a little bit about what your role is going to be. You’re not the only one doing that? Ricky Arnold: No, no. And, you know, we’ve used the ISS as an education platform in the past, certainly. But by sheer coincidence, we ended up with two additional slots on the International Space Station, which means there will be one more American there for an entire year. And those two Americans both happen to be classroom teachers — Joe Acaba, who’s up there now, and me, who will launch in March. So we have people who have that background for a continuous year. And we have more crew time available to pursue education pursuits. So we won’t be the only ones doing the — providing the educational outreach. Certainly our crew mates will be part of it. But it’s because we’re there. It’s a nice story of, “Hey, we’ve got teachers in space for a year.” And we’re certainly going to be highly involved in what’s going on. But our crew mates — it’s going to be a shared effort. And I’m really excited about continuing to highlight the International Space Station as a platform for education. Host: Is there any project in particular you’re excited about that you guys are going to be doing, you know, either really soon or down the road while you’re up there? Ricky Arnold: Well, absolutely. The thing that I’m most excited about is I think I mentioned earlier about the Challenger mission? Host: Mm-hmm. Ricky Arnold: Did I mention that earlier? Host: Yeah, you did. Ricky Arnold: I thought so. Host: You said you were watching it on TV. Ricky Arnold: I was watching it, exactly, exactly. Host: That kind of planted a little seed. Ricky Arnold: Planted a seed, thank you. And, you know, I’ve kind of always wondered — it was just such an amazing thing that NASA was trying to offer to the education community. And I kind of always wonder what became of that? What became of those lessons after that sacrifice? And there’s been amazing things done. There’s the Challenger Center have started up in carrying that mission forward. The Onizuka Foundation. I’m going to leave people out, but there’s been families and concerned people who surrounded that mission who went on and did some really good things in education. But I always kind of wondered what happened to the things Christa was going to do on orbit? And so Joe and I are — and we’re going to announce it here shortly — but Joe and I are going to have the opportunity to conduct some of the lesson plans that Christa McAuliffe was going to do while she was on Challenger back in 1986. Host: All right. And so — Ricky Arnold: Which I think is really cool. Host: No, I mean, that’s — that’s incredible. And it does kind of bring it full circle as NASA — we started the educator focus back then, we’re doing it now. So I mean, you got to just be excited to get up there. Ricky Arnold: Yeah. And hopefully inspire other teachers out there to pursue degrees in — you know, advanced degrees in science — you know, direct in science. Not science education. But as a scientist and consider, you know, maybe coming to NASA at some point and continue the mission. Joe and I are the only two left. Barb Morgan left a few years ago. Dotty Metcalf-Lindenburger left shortly after Barb. And then it’s just Joe and I are the only two left. So we got to hand off the baton to someone. Host: No pressure. Ricky Arnold: No, no pressure at all. Host: So aside from all that, anything you’re just really excited about getting up there to do? Any science you’ve seen going on recently; you really want to do some space walks; anything that’s — Ricky Arnold: Oh, well, you know — Host: — on the Ricky Arnold bucket list for Space Station? Ricky Arnold: Doing another spacewalk would be — would be awesome. The science we’re doing up there, I — really excited to be a part that. Just because we’re really working hard to improve life here on earth. But from a purely selfish standpoint, I’m just look forward to having some time to look out the window. The look — I’ll never forget my first look at earth from space. And that image is kind of embedded in my mind and I think always will be. But on the Shuttle we just didn’t have a lot of time for just looking out the window and admiring Earth. You get a real sense for this is all we got right now. The planet’s beautiful, we’re all in it together, and there’s a lot of nothing that surrounds us. And so just appreciate the earth from low-earth orbit and maybe encourage people to take better care of it. It’s the only thing we got right now. Host: All right. Well, I know I got to let you go back and do astronaut stuff. Ricky Arnold: Yeah, I know. Host: One final question. Ricky Arnold: Sure. Host: You’ve been an astronaut now as long as you’ve been a teacher, and you said, you know, maybe you’ll go back and teach. What would you go teach? Would you go back and do eighth grade science? What would you go do, you think? Ricky Arnold: That’s a good question. I think I would probably go back to middle school, seventh or eighth grade. I just enjoy work working that age group. You know, they’re still figuring things out, they’re still open to ideas. They’re still by and large enthusiastic about learning. I just — there’s something to me that — I didn’t intentionally become a middle school teacher, but it was something that I really, really enjoyed. And I just found it a very rewarding job. And so will I consider it? I still got a little bit more time here at NASA and some more things I want to accomplish here. But, you know, who knows? Host: Yeah. Well, I mean, being a teacher from space has got to look good on the resume. You’ll be competitive. You’ll be competitive for the job. Ricky Arnold: If I can get a job, yeah, exactly. Host: All right. Well, again, Ricky Arnold, soon to be International Space Station resident on board coming up in March. Thanks for joining me today, man. Ricky Arnold: My pleasure. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. [ Music ] Houston, go ahead. [Inaudible] Space Shuttle. Roger, zero G and I feel fine. Shuttle has cleared the [inaudible] We came in peace for all mankind. It’s actually a huge honor to break a record like this. Not because they are easy but because they are hard. [Inaudible] Houston, welcome to space. [ Music ] Host: Hey, everyone, thanks again for listening. If you want to follow Ricky while he’s onboard the International Space Station, head over to Twitter and you can follow him @Astro_Ricky. And as always, you can follow us online at NASA.gov/ISS for all the latest on the International Space Station and on our various social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And as always, you can use #AskNASA on your favorite platform to submit any ideas for a podcast. Just make sure to mention it’s for Houston, We Have a Podcast. This podcast was recorded on January 18th. Thanks to Alex Perryman, John Stoll, Pat Ryan, John Streeter, Greg Wiseman, and Ryon Stewart. And, of course, thanks again to Mr. Ricky Arnold for coming on the show. We’ll be back next week.