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In Their Own Words: Dan Tani
In Their Own Words
What made you want to become an astronaut?
When I was a little boy, I was not one of those astronauts, and there are some, that wanted to be an astronaut when they were four years old or six years old. But I loved, I thought aviation was incredibly exciting and I liked model rockets. I used to fly model rockets when I was in elementary school. Just making stuff go fast and high was really exciting. Of course, if you would have asked me if I wanted to be an astronaut, I would have said absolutely, but it wasn't something I carried as a goal since childhood.
And then in college I became an engineer and learned how stuff works, how to build things and I got a job in an aerospace company and we were building satellites and satellite parts and I got to meet a few astronauts and when I met them I realized, hey, it's a job and I never even thought of being an astronaut as a job. /// And then I heard they were taking applications for that job, so I thought, who doesn't want to be an astronaut? /// So, got the application, filled it in, mailed it off and almost forgot about it.
I just felt like I bought the lottery ticket, stuck it in my pocket and forgot about it. I was really surprised when they gave me a call and asked me if I wanted to interview and equally surprised when I got selected for the class of '96.
What is astronaut training like?
It's fun. We sort of go back to school. For the first two years we're called astronaut candidates, or ASCANs for short and ASCAN training is learning everything you can about NASA so we go to all the centers, we learn about what they do. It's all about learning how the space station works, when I joined it was all about learning how the space shuttle works and then it's about all the skills you're going to need as an astronaut, so some robotics skills and some spacewalking skills and some fix-it skills and some speaking skills. And so it's sort of going to school for almost two years and then when you come out of it, you're an eligible astronaut for assignment and the lucky ones get picked first and the more normal ones like us have to wait a little bit and so it was five years, I guess it was four years after I joined that I got selected for my first mission.
What was adapting to space like?
It felt pretty normal pretty quickly. When we go up on the space shuttle, we don't dock until the third day and so that means we have two full days of living in the space shuttle to kind of get used to weightlessness, to get used to brushing your teeth in weightlessness, putting on your socks, which is comically difficult to do in weightlessness and so you've sort of adapted that, doing your everyday stuff in weightlessness. Now you get into the station and it's a real benefit, there's just a lot more room. There's more to, so you're not elbowing your buddy every time you want to move around, or, again, when you put on your socks or your shoes and so in that way it's a lot easier. And then we, space station is outfitted with lots of computers to provide you some entertainment, also some communication with home so you can talk to your family virtually every day and so that feels a lot more normal. So living on the space station I thought was a very fast adaptation.
Describe the view from space?
The two great things about going into space are floating and looking out the window, and they would flip-flop in priority day to day in my mind. Looking out the window is a spectacular privilege. We're two hundred something miles above the Earth, we're going 17,000 mph, we cover most of the populated land mass because of the inclination of our orbit.
To look down at the earth and see both very familiar sights like your hometown and unfamiliar sights like the middle of Australia, which is incredibly beautiful, the colors and textures of central Australia are just spectacular, that was a motivator every day for space for me. Even out the little window, it was amazing.
So now you put the helmet on, you put the spacesuit on, you get in the airlock, you close the door behind you, you open the door out into space and now your window has become a full, 180-degree mask view. And the thing about spacewalks is we're not out there for the view, we're there to do the work and I think every spacewalker would tell you, the view is great, we think, because as far as I remember, every spacewalk was stuff right here. And so my memory of the spacewalks really is what's here and I had to force myself to have moments where I would appreciate the setting, the view and take some pictures and remember it that way. It is spectacular.
It's amazing to hold onto the International Space Station, you're going 17 and a half thousand miles an hour, and hold on and just sort of look down at your feet and 200 miles under your feet, there goes the coast of California and, oops, nine minutes later, there goes New York City as you're flying over and then on your way to Europe.
What was the biggest surprise of spaceflight?
The biggest surprise to me was that when you're in space, with the weightlessness, it is, I call weightlessness 75 percent enjoyable, 75 percent unbelievably fun, 25 percent just a pain in the neck. And the pain the neck aspect is you're used to, on the ground you're used to doing things without thinking, you're used to writing something down, putting the pen down. The pen stays there, the paper stays there and you can turn around and when you turn back, the pen's there, paper's there.
Well, since everything floats in space, you have to think about absolutely everything you touch and everything that you want to touch. When you're eating, in space, you have to, generally people will eat one thing at a time because to eat your meat and your potatoes and your drink, you have to hold down, tie down, find a fixture for each item between if you're going to pick something new. Otherwise you're just juggling stuff and it'll get out of control. So generally most people will eat one thing, all, fold it up, throw that away. Open up the next thing, eat that next thing and roll it up, throw that away. Deal with one thing at a time because it's just too complex to have more than two things, one thing in each hand, at any time. And one of the pleasures of coming back to the ground was not having to think about eating, not having to think about my utensils. I could put them down and it was magic, they just stayed right there.
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