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photo courtesy of Polaris Program
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As TCU celebrates 150 years of leading on, one Frog will lead up. All the way into space.

Anna Wilhelm Menon ’08 is one of four crew members on the Polaris Dawn mission scheduled to launch no earlier than this summer. The crew will endeavor to fly to the highest Earth orbit that anyone has ever flown. And, it will be the realization of a dream that began for Menon as a child.

“Growing up in Houston, I went on a field trip to NASA in the fourth grade, and that’s when my dream to be an astronaut began, but I never thought it would happen,” Menon said. “I’ve had a lifelong love of exploration – of other cultures and fields of study. This will be a rare and different exploration, one that I plan to share with my kids, family and colleagues.”

She also plans to share her love for TCU during her mission.  Each crewmember plans to bring a personal item, and Menon plans for hers to be a TCU Sesquicentennial patch. 

“TCU gave me such a strong foundation, so I want to take a small piece of it with me,” she said. “TCU will always be special to me, because of the people, and it’s where I made lifelong relationships.”

Menon also credits her undergraduate years at TCU, where she earned a bachelor’s in math and Spanish, with helping to prepare her for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“TCU showed me the world and opened my eyes to a new way of life,” she said. “I got to study abroad in Spain and learned new ways to better communicate with one field of study, and I learned problem-solving and perseverance with the other.”

After leaving TCU, Menon earned a Master of Science in biomedical engineering at Duke, hoping to apply her math background to helping people, which she achieved from her mission control desk as a biomedical flight controller for NASA’s International Space Station. She also met her husband, Anil, at NASA, and today he is a NASA astronaut candidate – and a TCU football fan, she proudly added.

Anna joined SpaceX in 2018, where she most recently served as lead space operations engineer, managing the development of crew operations and serving as mission director and crew communicator in mission control. She was doing what she loved, never imagining what was to come.

“When I was approached about being on this mission, I was so very touched and grateful,” she said. “Joining the Polaris Dawn crew reawakened my childhood dream.” 

polarisspacecrewThe Polaris Dawn crew will spend up to five days in orbit, aboard the Dragon spacecraft. Menon will act as mission specialist and medical officer, leading research experiments in flight, while raising money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“The Polaris Program has a connection to the hospital because we all want to make Earth a better place,” she said. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s goal is to find a cure for childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

One of the medical space experiments that excites Menon involves a portable ultrasound device that will measure blood flow to the kidneys and liver. Another will study the methods to effectively perform CPR in the Dragon spacecraft. While much of the research will help scientists better understand how spaceflights affect humans, it will advance research for humanity on earth, too.

Menon will be joined by three other crew members: Mission Commander Jared Isaacman, Mission Pilot Scott Poteet and Mission Specialist Sarah Gillis.

Currently in training, which includes mountain climbing, scuba diving, air flight training and more, Menon doesn’t have much spare time. When she does, she spends it with family, including son James, and daughter Grace.

“I also try to keep up with and support my TCU friends,” she said. “I am grateful for them and their continued support. Having them – and this opportunity – is what I had dreamed and hoped for so long ago.”

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