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First Sign Language Message From Space

July 26, 2010

The International Space Station has had guests from all over the world, representing myriad languages. But until NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson came aboard, one language was still not represented. Said to be the fourth most commonly used language in the United States, American Sign Language, or ASL, made its debut on the space station in a special video recorded by Caldwell Dyson.

In the almost six-minute video, the American astronaut spoke directly to the deaf community about what she does on the space station and how she became interested in ASL. She even offered several words of encouragement for young deaf students.

Caldwell Dyson explained that she first became interested in ASL when she met a fellow sprinter on the track team in high school. She strengthened her ASL skills when she was in graduate school and tutored a young woman in chemistry. The student was having a hard time, not because the course was difficult, but because of the added challenges the young woman faced. She had to take notes, look in the book and watch her interpreter who stood at the front of the room. “It was a difficult and strange way to learn,” said Caldwell Dyson, “but it was all she had and it opened my eyes to the challenges deaf students in hearing universities face every day — challenges that hearing people take for granted.” Caldwell Dyson said that working with this young woman made a deep and lasting impact on her.

It was from these experiences that Caldwell Dyson learned deaf people can do anything but hear. Students at deaf universities are engaged in cutting-edge research and science that may one day benefit humanity, just like the work being done at NASA. Caldwell Dyson would like to see these future scientists and engineers excel and even join the NASA community.

“Ultimately, this isn’t really about me learning or knowing ASL,” stated Caldwell Dyson. “This story should be an avenue for deaf students — from children in kindergarten to college undergraduates to doctoral candidates — to see themselves belonging to this amazing thing called NASA and participating in scientific research and space exploration.”

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