The odds are astronomical, said Tom Petersen — and the Hudson’s Bay teacher wasn’t going for an easy pun.
Petersen knows two of the astronauts who will be aboard the space shuttle Discovery when it blasts off from the Kennedy Space Center early Monday morning.
Petersen taught with Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger during her five-year tenure at Hudson’s Bay High School, and they also coached cross country and track together.
“Dottie came here fresh out of college, her first teaching gig and first coaching job,” said Petersen, who is in his 15th year as an English teacher at the downtown Vancouver school. “She coached with me for four years.
“We would run three or four times a week, either with the kids or just to get a run in,” Petersen said. “That and coaching is where I developed a friendship with her.”
But Metcalf-Lindenburger is not his only link to the NASA shuttle mission. Petersen went to a small college in Nebraska with Clay Anderson, who will be making his second trip to the International Space Station.
“We both graduated from Hastings College in 1981,” Petersen said.
Petersen and Anderson shared the college’s “Bronco Award,” given annually to outstanding seniors. Petersen said he got his share of the award through campus involvement — “ASB-type things.” Anderson was a multisport athlete.
(Another winner of that award went on to some success, by the way. Tom Osborne, winner of the 1959 Bronco Award, coached the University of Nebraska football team to three NCAA football championships and then was elected to three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.)
Petersen actually coached Anderson in college track.
“I was injured and they hired me as an assistant coach. I worked with the distance runners, jumpers, hurdlers. Clay and his brother were two of my athletes,” Petersen said.
“Right after graduation, as kind of a send-off, he said, ‘I’ll see you in space.’ I said, ‘Whatever.’”
Twenty-six years later, Anderson went up on a Russian rocket and spent five months in space.
As a science teacher and accomplished runner, Dottie had a great background for an astronaut, Petersen said.
It turned out Metcalf-Lindenburger came up a bit short in one skill set, though.
After she returned from her initial interview and preliminary testing, “She said the thing she’d done worst at was video gaming, to test her dexterity,” Petersen said. “She never played video games.”
During the next couple of weeks, Metcalf-Lindenburger will be using her dexterity in operating a robotic arm, an assignment that includes helping a couple of astronauts during a series of spacewalks.
“One of the spacewalkers happens to be Clay,” Petersen said. “Small world.”