Dr. Bonnie J. Dunbar: Astronaut, Engineer and Professor

WITI News Staff

May 31, 2020

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Dr. Bonnie J. Dunbar: Astronaut, Engineer and Professor
One of five Women In Technology International Hall of Fame Inductees in 2000

Dr. Bonnie J. Dunbar earned her role as a NASA astronaut by digging into her engineering work and researching the effects of space flight on the human body. She began her studies at the University of Washington, in her home state. This degree in ceramic engineering pushed her to work at Boeing Computer Services as a systems analyst before she moved on to get her masters, also at the University of Washington. At the time, Dr. Dunbar was researching in the field of mechanisms and kinetics of ionic diffusion in sodium beta-alumina. Dr. Dunbar also spent some time in Oxford, England continuing her research. Dr. Dunbar continued her studies in mechanical and biomedical engineering, earning her PhD at the University of Houston, where she also acts as an adjunct professor. Her dissertation involved evaluating the effects of simulated space flight on bone strength and fracture toughness. All of this work geared her up for future positions at NASA.

After earning her PhD, Dr. Dunbar began working for Rockwell International Space Division where she developed the equipment and processes for manufacturing the thermal protection system for space shuttles. Her work at NASA began in ensuring the safe landing of various space shuttle missions. She then held multiple titles at NASA including: a member of the Flight Crew Equipment Control Board, a member of the Astronaut Office Science Support Group, chief of the Mission Development Branch, lead for the Science Support Group and Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

What Dr. Dunbar is perhaps best known for, though, is her work as a mission specialist astronaut. Dr. Dunbar has spent a total of 50 days in space and has become accustomed to the joys and downfalls of space life. Dr. Dunbar played her part on various missions to bring them to success. Dr. Dunbar was a payload specialist on two missions, including Mir, the iconic space shuttle docking at the Russian Space Station. She spent most of her career working on space relations between Russia and the United States. Her missions involved the movement of scientific technology and tools and the retrieval of satellites.

Dr. Dunbar has received countless awards and sits on many boards to lend her expertise and advice. Now, Dr. Dunbar is a professor of aerospace engineering at Texas A&M University and serves as director of the Institute for Engineering Education and Innovation. She was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame in 2000.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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