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Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr.

Orthopaedic surgeon, chemical engineer and astronaut Robert Lee Satcher, Jr. was born on September 22, 1965 in Hampton, Virginia to Robert and Marian Satcher. Satcher graduated from Denmark-Olar High School in Denmark, South Carolina, in 1982. He received his B.S. degree in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1986; his Ph.D. degree in chemical engineering from MIT in 1993; and his M.D. degree from Harvard Medical School in 1994. Satcher completed his postdoctoral research fellowships at MIT in 1994 and University of California, Berkeley in 1998; internship and residency in orthopaedic surgery at the University of California, San Francisco in 2000; and a fellowship in musculoskeletal oncology at the University of Florida in 2001.

From 2001 to 2008, Satcher served as an assistant professor at The Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. He was also an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois from 2001 to 2008, and served as a professor at the Institute for Bionanotechnology in Medicine at Northwestern University Medical Center. In addition, Satcher was an attending physician of orthopaedic oncology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center from 2001 to 2008; and served as an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern University from 2002 to 2008.

Satcher joined NASA in 2004. In 2009, he became the first orthopaedic surgeon in space during NASA’s STS-129 mission, where he was a mission specialist and performed two spacewalks. Satcher left NASA in September 2011, and serves as a surgical oncologist and assistant professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Satcher’s professional organizations include the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Musculoskeletal Tumor Society, American Academy of Cancer Research, Connective Tissue Oncology Society, National Medical Association, Society of Black Academic Surgeons, Doctors United in Medical Missions, National Comprehensive Cancer Network, American Telemedicine Association, Orthopaedic Research Society, MIT Alumni Association, Black Alumni at MIT and Harvard Alumni Association. In addition, he co-founded the eHealth Research Institute, is a user panel member of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, and serves on the boards of CSTEM and Teach for America.

Satcher has been active in numerous community organizations, including Big Brother for Youth at Risk Counseling Program, Department of Corrections, San Francisco, California; Tutor for Black Student’s Union Tutorial Program, MIT; National Society of Black Engineers; American Institute of Chemical Engineering; Supervising Adult for Cub Scout Camp for Boys, Nashville, Tennessee; Open Airways Tutor (asthma awareness); Proctor for Freshman Dormitory at Harvard University; Lay Episcopal Minister at St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church, Chicago, Illinois and at St. James Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. Satcher has also completed medical missions for outreach care to underserved areas in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Gabon.

Satcher was a National Merit Scholar, and received the Monsanto Award and the Albert G. Hill Award from MIT, fellowships from both the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and UNCF/Merck Research department, and is a member of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society. He has been awarded two honorary doctorates of science, and was selected as a finalist in Tuskegee University’s presidency search in 2010.

Robert Satcher, Jr. was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 3, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.047

Sex

Male

Interview Date

3/3/2014 |and| 5/7/2014

Last Name

Satcher

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

Lee

Schools

Denmark-Olar High School

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Harvard Medical School

Harvard

First Name

Robert

Birth City, State, Country

Hampton

HM ID

SAT03

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Texas

Birth Date

9/22/1965

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Houston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Unsalted Peanuts

Short Description

Orthopedic surgeon, chemical engineer, and astronaut Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. (1965 - ) was a surgical oncologist and assistant professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. He became the first orthopedic surgeon in space during NASA’s STS-129 mission.

Employment

UT MD Anderson Cancer Center

Northwestern University

NASA Johnson Space Center

Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr.'s interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about his parent's civil rights activism

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. remembers his maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes his mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes his father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes his father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about his father and when his parents first started dating

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. lists his siblings, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. lists his siblings, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. remembers developing an interest in science

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes his early influences

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about his aspiration to become a pilot

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. remembers moving to Denmark, South Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. remembers Denmark-Olar High School in Denmark, South Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. recalls his start at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. remembers his first year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes his experiences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about the MIT Black Students' Union

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about his transition from the South to Boston, Massachusetts, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about his transition from the South to Boston, Massachusetts, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. remembers the black faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about the influence of black astronauts

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. recalls his decision to study chemical engineering

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. remembers his decision to study medicine

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about his dual graduate degree program

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. remembers his black peers and professors at Harvard Medical School

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. remembers the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about his curriculum track at Harvard Medical School

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. remembers Mae Jemison

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. recalls his decision to attend Harvard Medical School

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about his Ph.D. degree program

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. reflects upon his decision to complete a dual degree graduate program

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about his interest in orthopedic surgery

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. remembers his residency at the University of California, San Francisco

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Slating of Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr.'s interview, session 2

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. remembers the influence of Emily Morey Holton

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. recalls applying to become an astronaut

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about his work as a bone cancer surgeon

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. recalls his selection as an astronaut candidate

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. remembers his acceptance into the NASA Astronaut Corps

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. recalls his decision to join the NASA Astronaut Corps

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about the history of African American astronauts

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes basic training at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes basic training at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about Extravehicular Activity training

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about Extravehicular Activity training

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes his family's perspective on his work as an astronaut

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. remembers his flight assignment

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. remembers launch day on Space Shuttle Atlantis

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes his crewmates on the Space Shuttle Atlantis

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. recalls his experience of space shuttle takeoff, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. recalls his experience of space shuttle takeoff, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about the flight crew for Space Transport System 129 on Space Shuttle Atlantis

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes the process of acclimating to zero gravity

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about eating and sleeping in space

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes life on the International Space Station

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. talks about the mission schedule for Space Transport System 129

DASession

2$2

DATape

7$8

DAStory

1$2

DATitle
Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. describes basic training at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, pt. 1
Dr. Robert Satcher, Jr. recalls his experience of space shuttle takeoff, pt. 2
Transcript
Now I imagine--and correct me if I'm wrong--but you had a, there was a general training that everybody got and then a training around your specialty as a mission specialty--specialist, right?$$Um-hm.$$Okay.$$Yeah, when you start it now, you go through basic training which can be a year and a half or so on average and that's just because you've got all these people from different walks of life and you basically want them to be able to work together and you need to understand what that means too, just to be an astronaut, because you have no clue outside of pretty much what you have seen on TV in a popular culture like everybody else, so yeah. You go through a year of basic, a year and a half of basic training. One of the most important aspects of that training is learning how to fly and the jet trainers and T-38s [Northrop T-38 Talon], and that's a tool that they use for what's called crew resource management. Basically, it's how you work together as a crew in a dynamic environment; you know, in this case a jet but that simulates in a lot of ways of being in a spaceship.$$Now, had you ever flown before?$$Just a little bit. I mean, I had taken private lessons when--towards the end of my residency and fellowship and I was working towards getting my private license, but I hadn't gotten it yet, so I had flown some.$$Okay.$$But never in a supersonic jet, you know, in terms of piloting it, so that was all new. The other thing was we do a lot of training as mission specialists during spacewalk training in this gigantic pool called the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory and you go in spacesuits that have been made to be neutrally buoyant under water, so it simulates being in space, and, but you need to be scuba trained. You need to also train, do a lot of training specifically for being able to actually train in that facility, and so, that's part of your basic astronaut training, putting you through that whole process. For some of the water survival and land survival stuff, they sent us to different places. We went to Pensacola [Florida], to the naval flight training school [Naval Air Station Pensacola] there. There was some flight training there. We also went up to Maine to the Acadia national forest [Acadia National Park] to do some of our land survival training.$$This is in case it comes down place that it's not supposed to.$$Right, right. And then, we had training, like in geology; being able to explore landscapes, find important features. In a landscape that will tell you about the evolution of that particular environment. And so, we went out to New Mexico in order to do a lot of that training. Part of it, too, is the astronauts, of course, were the focal point for what NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] does in human exploration. So, whenever they bring in a new class, you need to learn about NASA as an organization. NASA has, I believe, don't quote me on this, if I remember I think it's fourteen centers nationwide, and you go around and visit every center so that the people, the personnel that are at each of these centers have an opportunity to meet you and you have an opportunity to meet them. The spacecraft and the spaceships that we fly on are assembled collectively by all of the centers. It's directed primarily in certain areas, but there are parts and contributions from all of the centers that are brought together and so it's important to go and meet the people that are doing that because you really are entrusting them with your lives when you're flying on a spaceship, and so it's closing that loop so that they have a face, you know. They know that this isn't just some theoretical exercise. It's, you know, these are people that are depending on them, so it establishes that bond and, you know, so it's--its, that's part of your basic training. That's you know, what you do. You continue it also, once you, you know, finish basic training.$And, when you get to the eight and a half minutes you're going, you're traveling at 17,500 miles an hour, which is, if you do the calculation, it's five miles per second, which is actually faster than a bullet, but you're in this gigantic spaceship travelling that fast and, you know, it's as I said, by the time you get to that eight minute mark and you know you're almost getting ready for the engines to stop, you're ready for the engines to stop (laughter) because you know it's really, and I was sitting there and I was having to think about every breath, you know. I was like, man, I gotta think about breathing because my muscles are actually starting to get a little bit tired from having to do this work. So, when the engines cut off and we were officially in space, it was very nice. They cut off and then everything starts exploding and that's kind of a magical moment, you know. It cuts off and I was just anticipating it and I was like, oh man, everything's gonna start floating now. This is gonna be spectacular. And it was. You know. I didn't have one of my gloves. I didn't have it strapped on me the right way, so when I took it off it started floating off, you know, and I'm getting out of the seat and, you know, when you're under your buckle and then all of a sudden you're just floating, you know, and just floating around, it's a spectacular feeling and the one thing that we all do right when it happens is, you know, you go to the window and stare out, just like a bunch of kids, you know, because you want to look out and just take in you know, seeing Earth. It's like you need to mentally verify. I am in space because, again, this is just kind of unique once in a lifetime for many, kind of things, and I just immediately started thinking I want to just remember as much of this as I possibly can. What competes with that, of course, is you have a very busy schedule that you have to adhere to and you have a lot of duties, so--$$Can you remember the first thing you saw when you looked out the window?$$Uh, well, I looked out and I saw the Earth and we were, I think we were over Europe at the time.$$Could you make it out?$$Oh yeah, yeah. I mean, it looks like, yeah, that's what's incredible. It looks just like the globe that you have on your desk, but in vivid colors; just incredibly spectacular, vivid colors. More vivid than you can imagine. It just kind of blows you away, and it just exceeds what you think it's gonna look like, 'cause I had, I was thinking it was gonna look this way but then you see it and just the colors are so brilliant. That hasn't had, the reason is when you're in space you're outside the atmosphere and you're in a vacuum of space and so you have this unfiltered light, and the colors, like I said, are just really spectacular and brilliant and you know there's something that's, in certain ways, very spiritual about how it looks and how it grabs you and affects you. So, at any rate. The other thing that really you notice when you look down on the earth you know, you can see, you actually can see the atmosphere when you look, you know, kind of on a tangent on the earth. Let's say that's the earth and you look right on the side, you actually see the atmosphere, this layer, you know, of gas, oxygen and nitrogen, whatever, adherent to the Earth.$$Does it look like a lot of protection for the Earth?$$Well, no. (Laughter) It looks like a thin, delicate layer. You know, and you realize that it's like this fluid, just like, you know, a gas is basically a fluid, just like water; water much more dense of course, but that's what it looks like. It looks like this fluid that's adherent to the Earth and you realize that's what we breathe and that's, you know, and what it really made me realize is that it's not an infinite entity. It's quantifiable. You can see that and you can see its layer. It's like, well there's only so much of that that's there, you know, and that really kind of brings home the point that it really is a delicate system that we have here and, you know, it's obviously it's coming into focus now with a lot of the global climate changes and everything that are going on, but you really gain a very visceral appreciation for it when you can actually see it like that.$$It becomes more real then--$$It becomes very real (simultaneous).$$--(Simultaneous) that human beings could actually destroy this.$$Right. Yeah, we could definitely do that.