Former NASA astronaut Mike Mullane takes photos of his grandchildren Noah Lyons and Gwyn Lyons (in the cockpit) at the F/A-15 cockpit at the NASA exhibit. (Photo courtesy Jay Levine) › View Larger Image When Mike Mullane was a boy, he gazed at the night sky. He thought about what it might be like to travel to the stars he saw dotting the darkness with their bright glow.
Mullane was selected as a mission specialist in 1978 in the first group of space shuttle astronauts. On Aug. 30, 1984, he had a chance to see those stars from a different vantage point – space. Discovery's STS-41D flight marked the first space flight not only for the NASA astronaut, but also for the orbiter.Mullane is a retired astronaut and veteran of three space shuttle missions and considers Albuquerque his hometown.
He was at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Oct. 2 to help commemorate the Fiesta's 40th anniversary and the 30th anniversary of the shuttle program.In two talks for Fiesta attendees, he said astronaut challenges in space, which can include sickness and severe lower back pain when returning to Earth, didn't change his mind about additional missions.
"Looking out the window [of the space shuttle] makes it all worth it," he said.
In order to complete the approximately 10-minute rides to space, shuttles travel at speeds of more than 17,500 miles per hour. For comparison, he said a trip from Los Angeles to New York City would take just 12 seconds at that speed.
Though the shuttle program wrapped up earlier this year, Mullane said NASA astronauts remain busy on the International Space Station.
He challenged young people to work hard in school and carry on the U.S. space traditions by completing future missions to explore Mars and beyond. Mullane said he expects those missions eventually will happen because "space travel elevates the human spirit."
Mullane's fondest memories include the first time he saw Earth from space and the 45-minute cycles during which astronauts witness a sunrise or sunset. Shuttle astronauts also viewed the curvature of the Earth, he said.
From the vantage point of space, Earthly events are visible. For example, Mullane said city lights and lightning are seen from space, but the Great Wall of China is hard to see.
Spectacular views were easy to find.
"The aurora borealis looks like green fire shooting out across the sky," he said.
In addition to his mission on Discovery, he also was a mission specialist on Atlantis' STS-27 and 36 missions prior to his retirement from NASA and the Air Force in 1990.
Mullane has been inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame and is the recipient of many awards, including the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit and the NASA Space Flight Medal.