Glenbrook North grad, Virgin Galactic astronaut was 'wide-eyed' about science

  • Beth Moses, far right, seen here during a Glenbrook North High School science club trip to the Florida Keys.

    Beth Moses, far right, seen here during a Glenbrook North High School science club trip to the Florida Keys. Courtesy of Mike Piskel

  • Glenbrook North alum Beth Moses, center, is chief astronaut instructor for Virgin Galactic and accompanied founder Richard Branson on his recent flight to space.

    Glenbrook North alum Beth Moses, center, is chief astronaut instructor for Virgin Galactic and accompanied founder Richard Branson on his recent flight to space. Associated Press

  • Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, left, sprays champagne at crew member Beth Moses while celebrating their flight to space from Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico and back Sunday.

    Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, left, sprays champagne at crew member Beth Moses while celebrating their flight to space from Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico and back Sunday. Associated Press

  • In this photo provided by Virgin Galactic, the VSS Unity reaches a speed of Mach 3 during its inaugural flight Sunday. Entrepreneur Richard Branson and crewmates, including Glenbrook North High School graduate Beth Moses, from his Virgin Galactic space-tourism company, reached an altitude of about 53 miles over the New Mexico desert, enough to experience three to four minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth.

    In this photo provided by Virgin Galactic, the VSS Unity reaches a speed of Mach 3 during its inaugural flight Sunday. Entrepreneur Richard Branson and crewmates, including Glenbrook North High School graduate Beth Moses, from his Virgin Galactic space-tourism company, reached an altitude of about 53 miles over the New Mexico desert, enough to experience three to four minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth. Associated Press

  • In this photo provided by Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson, bottom center, and his crew members experience zero gravity aboard his winged space plane on Sunday. Branson and five crewmates from his Virgin Galactic space-tourism company reached an altitude of about 53 miles over the New Mexico desert -- enough to experience three to four minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth.

    In this photo provided by Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson, bottom center, and his crew members experience zero gravity aboard his winged space plane on Sunday. Branson and five crewmates from his Virgin Galactic space-tourism company reached an altitude of about 53 miles over the New Mexico desert -- enough to experience three to four minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth. Associated Press

  • The Virgin Galactic space plane, with founder Richard Branson and other crew members on board, including Glenbrook North High School graduate Beth Moses, lands back in Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, Sunday.

    The Virgin Galactic space plane, with founder Richard Branson and other crew members on board, including Glenbrook North High School graduate Beth Moses, lands back in Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, Sunday. Associated Press

  • Beth Moses as a Glenbrook North High School student.

    Beth Moses as a Glenbrook North High School student.

 
 
Updated 7/15/2021 5:28 AM

A wide-eyed optimist, earnest and tenacious in her love for science.

That's how a former Glenbrook North High School science teacher describes Beth Moses, the chief astronaut instructor at Virgin Galactic and a crew member on the company's maiden spaceflight this week.

 

The Unity 22 mission flew from the New Mexico desert to the lower edge of space and back to Earth Sunday. It was the first fully crewed flight from billionaire Sir Richard Branson's private space tourism firm.

Moses, who was listed as "Astronaut 002," and three other astronauts including Branson, can be seen smiling in an onboard video as they look out the winged space plane's windows at Earth's curvature. They briefly unbuckled their seat belts and floated around the cabin, according to media reports.

The look on Moses' face was something Mike Piskel, a retired Glenbrook North science teacher, recognized after watching video footage of her spaceflight on YouTube.

"She always had that wide-eyed look (like she was) ready for something," Piskel said of Moses, who he described as naturally curious about science in high school. "She had that same look when she was up in space (at) Zero-G."

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A 1987 graduate of Glenbrook North, Moses was named a 2021 Distinguished Teacher Alumna of the school in May for her accomplishments in the field of aeronautics as the 63rd woman to fly in space.

She was awarded her commercial astronaut wings by the Federal Aviation Administration. She is the seventh commercial astronaut and the first female commercial astronaut in history.

At Glenbrook North, Moses was part of the Academy where she first got the bug for space exploration. She participated in the NASA Student Space Station Involvement Program, submitting shoebox-sized experiments to be flown in a space shuttle.

Moses was a member and later president of the school's science club and always hung around the science department. She relished the research, problem-solving, and the scientific method no matter the subject, Piskel said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"She had a glow about her that was inspirational to other kids, as well as teachers," said Piskel, who taught biology and was a co-sponsor of the science club. "It wasn't just with space, although she liked all things dealing with astronomy. She also liked all things dealing with science. She was always this really positive kid who was ready to learn."

Moses "was extremely involved" and found her home in the science department, said Michael Tarjan, Glenbrook North assistant principal for student activities who has spoken to Moses several times since her Virgin Galactic adventures.

"Even when she was in high school, she had her heart set on becoming an astronaut," Tarjan said. "She embraced just learning more and more everyday."

Retired Glenbrook North physics teacher Lynne Zielinski became Moses' mentor and inspiration in high school, he added.

Zielinski established the student group Glenbrook Aerospace Development Get-away Experiment Team (GADGET), and has flown nine active and more than 200 passive experiments in space with NASA, according to her biography on the National Space Society website.

She also has engaged students, Moses included, in NASA programs since 1987.

Moses gave a shoutout to Zielinski, Piskel, and other Glenbrook North science teachers in a video recording acknowledging her distinguished alumna award.

After graduating from high school, Moses earned bachelor's and master's degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Purdue University. She also interned at the NASA Johnson Space Center Co-op Program, working as a mock-up engineer. It led to Moses becoming a system manager for the International Space Station for the assembly and maintenance of spacewalk hardware.

In 2019, Moses completed a test flight of Virgin Galactic's passenger space plane.

She talks about that experience in a YouTube video livestream of the official crew spaceflight. Her comments start at the 1 hour-and-54-minute mark.

"It feels timeless. And it soaks into your soul ... The vista below you is unreal," she said.

Moses wore her Glenbrook North class ring on that 2019 test flight.

Tarjan hopes Moses can return to the campus this fall, visit classrooms and work with science students.

"The best thing about her is she is incredibly humble, incredibly gracious, incredibly thankful for who she is, what she's received in her life, what she has worked for," Tarjan said.

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