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Students learn about space and spy planes 

Paso Robles High School algebra teacher Bobbie Mitchell, standing, talks about the space suit that her husband, Doug, helps freshman Erika Rendon get into. Photo by Heather Young

Paso Robles High School algebra teacher Bobbie Mitchell, standing, talks about the space suit that her husband, Doug, helps freshman Erika Rendon get into. Photo by Heather Young

Algebra teacher works for NASA, husband works on spy planes

Teacher Bobbie Mitchell moved to Paso Robles a year ago when her husband, Doug Mitchell, was sent here to work on Lockheed Martin projects. Mitchell is a consultant for NASA and Doug is an engineer that designs spy planes and is part of the flight crew. On Friday, Mrs. Mitchell held NASA Aeronical Day, focusing on  “Go Anywhere, Do Anything.”

She started the presentation off talking about her own story. “I never thought I would work at NASA,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t qualified, but I applied anyway. And I got that position at NASA.”

Freshman Erika Rendon tries some space food, peaches, through a tube designed especially to sustain pilots. Photo by Heather Young

Freshman Erika Rendon tries some space food, peaches, through a tube designed especially to sustain pilots. Photo by Heather Young

She’s been working as a consultant for NASA for the last four years. When she applied, NASA was looking for six teachers from around the country. At the time, she lived in Lancaster and now that she lives in Paso Robles, she said it’s a little more difficult.

Doug talked about his job and how he got to engineer and flight test spy planes. While he said he can share some of what he does, a lot of it is classified, even from his wife. “I’ve gotten to do some really awesome things,” Doug said. “You don’t want to be in a job you hate. You want to be in a job you absolutely love.” He said he thought he’d become a mechanic, but then he went into the U.S. Air Force, which then led him to work for Lockheed Martin, which is based in Palmdale, near Edwards Air Force Base. “We are the branch of Lockheed that does all the future stuff.”

He said he’s currently living and working in Paso Robles as part of a field assignment.

“There are a lot of things I can’t tell you, including why I’m here and where I’ve been,” Doug said.

Because he deals with spy planes that higher than 70,000 feet on the very outer limits of the atmosphere so information can be gained from countries without entering over the country or being detected, the pilots must wear a space suit in the event they lose air pressure, or have to be ejected from the plane.

“The only people higher than [the pilot] are in the space station,” Doug said.

The Mitchells then got out a space suit for one of the students to put on. In the first class of the day, freshman Erika Rendon put the suit on.

“Not a lot of people get to be in a real space suit,” Mrs. Mitchell said.

The students got the opportunity to ask questions while Rendon tried on the suit.

“What do you eat?” How do you go to the bathroom?” were a couple of questions that were asked.

Doug brought out some tubes of “space food” that is specially made and designed to be eaten on the planes. A tube goes into the food tube and is there put through a hole in the helmet so the pilot can eat while in the suit. The missions usually last eight to 12 hours at a time all the while in the pressure-controlled suit. The students were then able to try the food, which is designed so the pilot will not have a bowel movement while in the air. While tubing was built into the suits — initially only for men, now also for women — it only allows for urination. To control that, Doug said, the pilot manages it with his or her diet.

The Mitchells gave the presentation to five of Mitchell’s classes, each time a student got the opportunity to put on the suit.

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