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STS-111 Astronaut
Question and Answer Board

Nina from Weatherford, Oklahoma
How hard is it for a foreigner to become an astronaut for NASA? I am from Germany but I'm currently spending a year in America as an exchange student.
That's kind of hard, I think, to make it simple… You need to become a U.S. citizen, if you want to fly with the U.S., start from scratch, you need to stay here and study here, and keep going and then you will be like some of the astronauts on our team who are foreigners and became U.S. citizens, and they are in the astronaut corps. The other way is to join, of course, a foreign administration, like ESA, Europe Space Agency, but as far as I know, they don't have any plans to get new astronauts for a little while, so those are the two ways, the two things I can say.
Kisaundra from Canyon
I am asking a question on behalf of my freshman biology student Sawyer. She wants to know what efforts are made to alleviate home sickness for the ISS crews? Also, when the crew returns home, how long does it take before the crew is allowed to go home?
Homesickness, of course, mostly for long duration flight, we can say that people can get it, but what we do, is offer them the possibility to talk to and to see their family quite often through the computers involved, and through video signals, so they have the chance to see their family and talk to their family on both sides. And then they are very busy and that keeps people out of sickness, if I can say so, and the flight goes on and from time to time there's of course a kind of sickness, sadness, but it doesn't last too long, and those are probably the best two ways to fight it.
Mark Austin from Ellsworth, Maine
I've often wondered what does an astronaut do if out on EVA he has to throw-up? Has this ever happened?
If you get sick during a space walk… that's never happened as far as I know, it never happened. And if it happened, of course, that would be bad, and there is not much you could do if you are inside a spacesuit and you really get sick, but I don't think we need to talk too much about that, it has never happened. I have never heard of something like that, and I don't think it will happen.
Caroline from Smithtown
After being in the space station for so long will the International Space Station crew be able to walk off of the shuttle when it lands of will they need the help of a stretcher, and what kind of medical examination or physical will be required for them by doctors after they land?
The people who come out of the shuttle after a long duration mission, don't walk alone. No one wants to take the risk to have them do that. It's true that after several months in space you cannot just walk like that, and even if you feel like you can do that, you might have problems with your heart that is not used to being back to gravity and might not be able to play the role and keep you full of blood from the bottom of your belly to the top part of your belly, and you could be in big trouble like a fighter pilot pulling Gs, with no G suit, so we don't risk that. So people stay lying down and they are taken by the crew workers for exams, and slowly can sit, and if they feel better and better they can go to their legs, but not right after the shuttle.
Nick from St. Louis
I have always wanted to be an astronaut. What advice could you give me to help me reach my goal?
To become an astronaut, I think, that like we say here to the young people, I don't know how old you are, but one of the key points is really the only way to do it is that you have to learn, you have to work at school, and university, and get as many degrees as you can. The key point is when you're young to be curious, and to want to know about everything, because that's what they will ask you in the future, if you are a candidate, they want to make sure you know enough about everything, because being a mission specialist, mostly, you can work for astronomers, you can work for doctors, you can work for medical research, and whatever, so, just be curious. Have a lot of questions, and a lot of answers.
Joe from Valley Stream
Do you feel that the media gives NASA adequate coverage? Does NASA get the credit it deserves for its successes?
As a former member, of course, I would say no, I think NASA deserves a lot of good credit and a lot of good coverage. There are a tremendous amount of people working really hard at what they believe is good, and they really do their best, more than the best, more than expected to make these things work. So it's true that NASA deserves a lot and more is never enough.
Patrick from Richardson
Although the crew for ISS undergoes extensive psychological testing, has there ever been a case in either the ISS or shuttle program of an astronaut getting claustrophobic? If that were to happen, what could be done for them?
No, not as far as I know, and it's true that we have the devices, the ways needed to detect claustrophobia. Claustrophobia is not very often and it's something as far as I know that people know by themselves; you know when you are claustrophobic. Separation already exists, I've not seen any candidate being claustrophobic, and, so we don't even really try to detect claustrophobia. Claustrophobia, again, is something that you know before, so then you know, "OK, I can not do that job."
Jennifer from Tucson
Are most pilots who enter NASA mainly from the Air Force, Navy, or some other branch of the military?
Yes, they are, for a very simple reason, the space shuttle is still a kind of very close to a military airplane on test flights, and almost every flight is a test flight. So the pilots are test pilots, and the test pilots are coming from the military, like most test pilots, so that is the reason why. To become a test pilot, you need to go into the military, and then you can become a shuttle pilot.
Panu from Brighton, United Kingdom
First of all, bon voyage to everyone! I've noticed that there are several astronauts who are at a so called "experienced age." I'd like to know -- do NASA astronauts have a mandatory retirement age or can they fly as long as they pass the physical?
That's a good thing, here in this country, you don't have a mandatory age in the population. Most people leave when they start getting old and they might leave, most of them leave because they think they had enough and they've had a great career, and they want to leave. A few others might leave just because of medical reasons, but I think that's never happened. And those ones who stay, we have a few older astronauts on the team who are still there, they have great experience, and they love their work, they love what they do, and as long as the doctors don't say, "OK, you're beyond your limit now," and as long as that doesn't happen, they stay in the corps.
Miti from Vancouver
While astronauts are in space, are they under a constant bombardment of harmful radiation of is the magnetic field of the Earth strong enough to deviate all the harmful charged particles? Or does the space shuttle and/or the ISS has protective materials specially made for this purpose?
The radiation is not too bad when you are in low orbit, what we do in the space shuttle and space station, we use protections. If we fly to Mars.. we flew to the Moon, but it's a short flight… if we fly to Mars, which will be a very long duration flight, then radiation's a concern. Then we will have to find protection, the right protection. It might be heavy minerals, or it might be water, but we have to find a shield to protect the astronauts. But again, on normal flights, what we do now, it's not a concern. It could be a concern if we fly more than two years, but very few people went through that limit.
Stephen from Jacksonville
Are there prolonged or permanent effects to astronauts resulting from their periods of weightlessness in space? Are crews rotated due to that effect?
The long duration effect of long duration flight is several aspects. The first one, as we mentioned, is radiation, but we are careful not to leave people more than a certain amount of times, and it depends also on their age. The second one is loss of calcium, but with things we know a lot now with that it's around 5% for long duration flight. And all those people in Russia who flew for long time many years ago, they're all in very good shape, and none of them have had problems with their bones, so we feel comfortable with that point. And the last one is the muscle restriction and muscle loss, but that, you can compensate it by good exercise, onboard exercise, and we have the tools for that, and we also know now how well we need to train every day, a couple of hours on the treadmill and bike, so that when you come back to Earth, your muscles are still in good shape.
David from Glasglow
How long does it take to plan out a mission for an ISS crew?
We try to have like six, five or six crews ahead of today's time, and knowing that the average flight duration is normally planned for four months and that training is sixteen months, around sixteen months. Of course we don't tell people that, "You're starting training tomorrow for sixteen months," for, sorry, eighteen months, "and then you'll fly on the space station." So we have kind of a difference: the Russians plan way before, and again, as far as I know, for us, we're our own six crews ahead of today, the date of today.
Naeema Mulla from Engliand
When exactly will you be sending kids to space? If you are, I'm 13 and available.
Congratulations, you write very nicely, you're probably a bright child, and someone who is probably advanced in her age, but don't worry! Be patient, and be curious, you will go, but not as a child. It's kind of risky, too risky.. no one will take responsibility and no parents, and I would not do that for my kids, to let them go to space because it's not a kid's decision, it's the parent's decision, and nobody would do that.
Dr. Butler from Miami, Florida
Does NASA have any plans to allow "space tourists" on the shuttle? I'd like to take my nephew to the ISS in the future.
I'll try to be short… First, NASA has nothing against tourism in space, it just needs to be done the right way, the right time, and the right place, we have nothing against. If you look to what happened in aviation a century ago, at the beginning of aviation, you had those crazy pilots flying those strange machines, and very quickly in the back of them appeared the first passengers. Millionaires, people having a lot of money, and wanting to be the first people flying other than the pilots of those crazy machines, and they invested and built themselves machines. We are kind of in the same situation, and there are millionaires now who fly to space, but we just all hope that it will go down, the price will go down, and we get new stuff to go into space and make it easier for tourists, and maybe that when they are, as in the past time in aviation, people flying into space for a cheap ticket, and be able to fly for much less than 20 million dollars.
Jose from Tukwila
Are you scared during a launch and while in orbit?
I must say, if you have flown before, you don't get scared for a very simple reason: if you are scared that means you are not confident, you think that something very bad will happen, and that is not the way you are trained. You are trained, it's a long training, first to be confident, in the tools and everything that you will be using, the space shuttle, the spaceship, the space station, whatever, all of your tools, and confident in the people who build it for you, and you are, because these are the best people and they really do a great job, confidence in the instructors who teach you how to act and react, and then confidence in yourself and that you get that confidence after many months of training, repeating the same thing, and in the end you will feel, that really, you have done that many times and it is kind of a routine, and so you are sure that if something wrong happens, and you have think about it before, you have your checklist, and if something wrong happens, you will take right decision, all together, with your other crew members, and correct it to bring back to normal. So this confidence is the opposite of being scared, and that is why you are not scared, and no one is scared.v
Paul from Northampton, United Dkindo
Why does the shuttle always orbit the earth upside down?
No, it's not routine, it might look like routine, because we have more and more flights, and they happen well, it's a good thing, and we build the space station, and it goes well, but it's not routine. That's also why we spend so many months, kind of one year, training for each mission, we work the crew members trying to work on average about 70 hours a week; if it were routine, we would just train half a day and go there, but we are not there.
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center