Atlantis astronaut has local ties


An astronaut who earned her doctorate at UC San Diego was blasted into space Monday aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, which took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a mission to make improvements to the Hubble Space Telescope.

The mission is the first trip into space for K. Megan McArthur, who was born in Hawaii but grew up in Northern California. She graduated from UCLA in 1993 with a degree in aerospace engineering before moving on to UC San Diego, where she earned a doctorate in oceanography in 2002.

Atlantis’ 11-day mission is expected to include five spacewalks so astronauts can make upgrades to the telescope, extending its life through 2014.

The trip is the fifth and final shuttle mission scheduled to make upgrades to the Hubble Space Telescope.

A fan of scuba diving and backpacking, McArthur was named a NASA mission specialist in July 2000 and has worked as a ground-based crew support astronaut for an International Space Station crew and has served a “capsule communicator’’ in NASA’s Space Station and Space Shuttle Mission Control centers.

McArthur, 37, conducted graduate research at UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography in underwater acoustic propagation and digital signal processing. She was a chief scientist during data-collection sea voyages and planned and led diving operations to collect sediment samples from the sea floor and deploy underwater equipment.

She was also a volunteer at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, conducting educational demonstrations for the public from inside a 70,000-gallon California Kelp Forest exhibit tank.

McArthur is married, and her parents--Don and Kit McArthur--live in San Jose.