Tracy Caldwell Dyson

La Crescenta Elementary School students line up to give NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson a hug after she gave a talk at the school about her career and time spent in space on Thursday, January 23, 2014. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / January 23, 2014)

NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson told a large group of La Crescenta Elementary students on Thursday what it’s like to be in space, sharing everything from what type of food she ate to how she exercised in zero-gravity.

The Arcadia-born astronaut, who visited the school with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), has been launched into space twice — once in 2007 and another time in 2010.

PHOTOS: Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson speaks at La Crescenta Elementary

During her presentation before the school’s third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, she showed them a video from her time aboard the International Space Station, where she and fellow astronauts from Japan and Russia enjoyed sushi dinners, completed space walks to fix a failed pump and exercised while tethered to a treadmill.

She told the students that, as a child, she’d often go camping with her family in the high desert where she would lay on top of a trailer at night and observe the stars.

“I started to think about the stars and what it was like to be with the stars,” she said.

As she grew older, she said she was drawn to science and also liked working with tools. Her father worked as an electrician and he took her along to his jobs and taught her the mechanics of his profession.

At 16, Caldwell Dyson was a cheerleader and track runner, but she fretted over what was going to be her career. Her parents reinforced the importance of focusing on the things she liked to do.

Around that time, Caldwell Dyson watched teacher Christa McAuliffe train with NASA to go into space on the Challenger shuttle, which broke apart 73 seconds into its flight in 1986, killing all seven onboard.

Even so, McAuliffe’s path from teacher to astronaut under NASA’s Teacher in Space project inspired Caldwell Dyson, still a student herself who had looked up to her own teachers.

Seeing McAuliffe train, she imagined for the first time that going into space was an achievable goal for her.

“If a teacher can go into space, then maybe I can go into space, too,” she recalled thinking.

She would go on to study chemistry at Cal State Fullerton and earn a doctorate degree, also in chemistry, at UC Davis before being selected by NASA in 1998 to become an astronaut.

In all, she has spent about 188 days in space. The majority of that time was the 174 days she spent aboard the International Space Station in 2010 when she performed three spacewalks to replace a broken pump that led to an ammonia leak.

She encouraged students to do what they love.

“Pay attention to things that make you excited,” she said, and should they be interested in exploring space, she advised them, “We need people who are interested, curious and want to learn.”

Caldwell Dyson is the eighth astronaut to visit local schools with Schiff, who invites an astronaut to visit schools in his district each year.

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Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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