Hubby and I had the opportunity to hear a presentation by two Space Shuttle astronauts, Mike Massimino and Garrett Reisman. They regaled the audience with tales of their adventures of going to space and their experiences in becoming astronauts.
Mike wanted to go into space since he was a young boy, but back in those days, astronauts were test pilots for the military. When the Space Shuttle crews were put together, they included scientists and engineers. He felt he at last had the chance to go to space. He applied the first time and got a rejection letter. He applied again and was rejected again, with the same letter, just different date at the top, he said. The third time he applied, he was interviewed, then rejected. Finally, on the fourth attempt, they let him in. Maybe they were just tired of hearing from him, but his determination made his dream come true. He stressed that when you have a dream, don’t give up on it. Keep after it until you achieve all you can.
Mike is a tall guy, an engineer. He flew two missions in the Space Shuttle to repair the Hubble telescope. He talked about one incident where his mission was to take out 110 screws that had bolts and washers to replace a component of Hubble. In space, they’re easy to lose so it was a huge job. But first, he had to take a handle off so they could get at the 110 screws. The handle was held in place by four big bolts. That part shouldn’t be a problem. He got three of them off but the last one, a hex head screw, had been stripped and there was no way to get it off there. He couldn’t complete his assignment (the thing he’d spent endless hours training for) without getting the handle off. He tried everything he could think of but couldn’t do it. He called down to Houston and told them the problem. They said they’d get back with him. Mike said it was the worst moment of his space career. He was letting the team down, letting astronomers down, and felt he’d forever be known as the guy who broke Hubble. When Houston got back to him, they told him to use brute force and rip it off there. Simple enough? On earth maybe, but this is 0 G space. He managed to pull the handle off and made the rest of the repairs to Hubble without a problem. The point he made with that story was to have 15 minutes of regret, then put it behind you and go on. You do no one any good if you wallow in regret.
Garrett was the funny one. He’s not tall, especially when standing next to Mike. He had a similar story about wanting to go into space but wasn’t a test pilot. Unlike Mike, he got into the program on the first try. He flew two missions as well and even did a spacewalk to repair a satellite dish. Since the spacewalk suits are one-size-fits-all, they had to make special adjustments to one for him. He talked about the many hours they spend training for their assigned tasks in the big pool in Houston. It’s 40 feet deep so they can train in as close to weightlessness conditions as they can on earth. His point was that to do something important requires a lot of work and practice. A lot of people drop out because they’re not willing to put in the work and time to be the best. Those who succeed the most are willing to do that.
When asked what it was like during liftoff, both agreed it was very scary. They went from 0 mph to 17,000 mph in 6 minutes. They experienced 3 Gs as they reached the end of the thrusters’ fuel. Garrett said you had to make yourself breathe because it wouldn’t come otherwise. Then when the thrusters shut off, they went from 3 Gs to 0 Gs instantly. Mike said he thought he would be shot out the front of the shuttle, so he put his hands up. The veteran astronauts laughed at him for doing the rookie move. He was glad he got to do another flight so he could tease those rookies like the others teased him. Both men said coming back was smooth sailing. The confidence they had in their shuttle pilots was unquestionable.
Both said the scariest times were after the flights when they were asked to throw out the first ball at baseball games. They were terrified of making fools of themselves in front of a crowd. Seemed crazy to me but that’s what they said. You are brave enough to sit on a bomb and be blasted into space, walk in space where you could float off into nothingness forever, reenter the atmosphere in a blaze of fire, and not be scared until you throw a baseball in front of a crowd. Doesn’t that seem a little silly to you?
Since leaving NASA, Mike appeared as himself on The Big Bang Theory and has a show on National Geographic channel. Garrett works parttime for Space X and teaches at USC. I’m very happy we had the opportunity to hear them.
As a side note, there is a local foundation that brings in speakers from all over the world to our little town to speak. Tickets are $5-$10 each to see big-name people. So far, Hubby and I (and our kids when they were home) have seen Carl Sagan, Margaret Thatcher, Sandra Day O’Connor, F.W. deKlerk, Beck Weathers, and Ehud Barak who told Moses jokes. I’ll let you google them if you don’t know who they were. It’s an amazing program, and we love going. We missed a lot of good people while we were in Boise (Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robert Gates, Steve Wozniak, and Neil deGrasse Tyson to name a few), but I look forward to seeing who they get next.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might... Ecclesiastes 9:10