Profiles in Badassery: Mary Ellen Weber

This is the fifth Profile in Badassery, yet I haven't featured any women. This is a failing on my part, because anyone that has the ability to give birth and all the physical improbabilities that comes from such an act is certainly a badass in my book. Purdue is known for a lot of fields: Engineering, technology, aerospace, etc. These fields have traditionally been dominated by men. Still, the women that have conquered these fields often come from Purdue. It is no coincidence that another badass astronaut, Mary Ellen Weber, is also a Purdue alum.

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Background

Mary Ellen Weber was born in Cleveland, Ohio on August 24, 1962. Therefore, we owe her some belated birthday wishes. She was raised in Bedford Heights, Ohio where she graduated from high school in 1980. She then attended Purdue where she earned a bachelor's in chemical engineering with honors. I knew a few women from my high school that earned their degrees in chemical engineering. In fact, my first ever girlfriend way back in the seventh grade graduated from Purdue with her degree in Chemical Engineering and is now an insanely smart chemist in the Chicago area.

See, I know what my friend went through to earn said degree. I remember being totally lost at times in high school AP Chemistry. Now, years later, I can look at a periodic table and understand the basics, but to make the elements dance as chemical engineers do is a hopeless task for me. I'd be lucky to not blow myself up or turn my hair blue (and then blow up my blue hair).

Fortunately, Weber is a titan of an engineer that bends the elements of nature to her will. A member of Phi Mu, she decided to continue her learning after graduating from Purdue in 1984. Four years later she earned her Ph.D in chemistry from Cal-Berkeley. This makes her a Jedi Master in the field on the level of at least Qui-Gon Jinn, if not Mace Windu. Later on, out of boredom most likely, she earned a Masters in Business Administraion from Southern Methodist.

Other Badass skills

One does not reach certifiable badass status without accomplishing feats of daring do. As we have seen so far in these profiles, Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, Charles Alton Ellis designed the Golden Gate Bridge without so much as a calculator, George Peppard was a member of the freakin' A-Team, and David Wolf was on Mir when the power went out. Sure, one can develop a God complex by learning the knowledge to mess with His creation, but that wasn't enough for Weber.

As often happens with Purdue engineers, the lure of NASA was too much of a siren to avoid. She was a member a NASA's 1992 group of astronauts and stayed with the agency for a decade. During this time she helped with the $2billion plan to revamp the International Space Station's research facilities (no word if they wanted to install a hot tub, pool table, and bar).She was also a NASA legislative affairs liason.

Then, of course, you have her spaceflight experience. Even today I think it take a special kind of crazy to sit atop a solid and liquid fuel rocket and wait for someone to light a match so you can be hurled into space. Weber did this twice. She first went into space on Discovery (STS-70) in 1995. The primary purpose of this mission was to put a Tracking and Data Relay satellite in orbit, the 7th of its kind. Weber did a lot of biotechnology expiraments, including growing colon cancer tissue that wasn't possible.

Let's back up for a moment. This woman can grow cancer at will.

In space.

She is not a woman to be trifled with. If she ever goes mad with power (unlikely, but you never know) She has figured out how to grow cancer in space that was never before possible. Perhaps gravity merely confines her powers. Still, imagine what she can do with the resources of earth.

Potential for Super-villainry aside, Weber also went into space on board Atlantis and STS-101. This 10-day mission visited the ISS and was a resupply mission. Given the wider research facilities aboard the space station, she helped supervise the re-stocking of 3,000 pounds of equipment. Given that she had a $2 billion budget for this, who knows what she helped install. Most likely it was innocent supplies, but it might also be a super-evil space lair for all we know.

After NASA

Weber's life has been far from pedestrian in the eight years since she left NASA. She is currently Associate Vice President at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She is also an instrument-rated pilot that can fly jets and is an avid scuba-diver. She need not worry if there is a problem while she is flying. She is an expert-level skydiver with over 3,300 dives.

I think it takes a special type of crazy to fling oneself from a perfectly good airplane, but Weber has done this so many times that she has won eight medals at the world skydiving championships. She has also participated with 300 people in the world's largest freefall formation.

Having conquered space, the air, and underwater it is clear this woman has no fear. That, or she feeds on fear, making her even more dangerous if she does snap and decide to become a super villain one day. I doubt she will ever feed on the screams of the weak and powerless, however. She is a proud Purdue graduate, giving her a hallowed place as the first woman with a Profile in Badassery.

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