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STS-112 Astronaut
Question and Answer Board

Chad from Iowa
A lot of times, people are selected as astronauts but then it takes years for them to be assigned to a flight. Do you get frustrated while you wait for a flight? How does NASA keep you busy?
Well, it took me five years from the time I was selected until my first flight, and I never felt frustrated during that period of time. It was always my philosophy that the primary job of an astronaut was to help other people fly. And if you do it well and faithfully, then perhaps the time comes when you yourself get to fly and others help you. So you know, I think it has a lot to do with the way you approach your job and the way you see your overall responsibilities in the program.
Jeff from Orlando
What are some of the facts and findings that NASA has established concerning weightlessness in space for the astronauts?
The two big ones of course are radiation and bone calcium loss. You lose calcium from the blood, from the bone, just like you do if you're on bed rest for a long time if you're in the hospital. And the loss of calcium from the bone is permanent. So you want to do everything you can to reduce the amount of calcium you do lose from your body and you can do that by exercising as much as you can and also being careful about the diet that you consume. Radiation again is something cumulative. While we do get a high radiation dose in space, we don't get anything like a life-threatening level of radiation.
Abby from Decatur
Hi! I hope you enjoy your job. Is it really nifty to be in space?
It is really nifty to be in space! You know, when you look out the window and watch the world go by at 300 miles a minute, when you turn your head from left to right and see all the way from San Diego to Miami, it's just awesome. To look down at the planet and see the browns and the reds in the more arid parts of the planet, the greens in the forest, and plains, the blues of the oceans, the whites of the clouds... the color spectrum is just phenomenal. Zipping around the world at 18,000 miles per hour and heading into sunrise and sunset every 90 minutes. It's an awesome responsibility to carry out the work on on the space shuttle, but it's also an awesome joy to be up there and experiencing the environment of space.
Aravind from Bangalore
How much time does an astronaut take to get use to the gravity of earth after a ten day stay in space?
Well it happens pretty quickly really. I would say within a couple of days you feel perfectly normal. Your blood chemistry might not return to normal for a week or so, but the doctors monitor us very carefully. The first few hours after you're back on Earth and you feel the effect of gravity, you feel real heavy, your inner ear is not working as well as it did before you flew because the brain has just quit listening to the signals so it takes a little bit of time for your human gyros to get back to normal. And you feel just a little bit unsteady. To see astronauts get out of the spacecraft and take their first steps you'll notice that they're looking straight ahead but they're walking off to the side and they're consciously lifting up their feet to walk... those are the results of just feeling heavy and having your inner ear not working quite as well as it ought to be working.
Kevin from Mansfield
Is it possible to become a shuttle pilot or commander without going through the Air Force?
I think the Air Force is great, I really do. I spent 25 years in the Air Force. But I have to admit that it is possible to get to be an astronaut, a commander or pilot, by going through the Navy. But one way or the other you've got to go through the test pilot school that is operated by the Air Force or the Navy. All of the shuttle pilots and commanders are test pilot school graduates, and that's where the training is located, in the military services.
Angel from Los Angeles
How does NASA select who is going to be the first person to step on another planet, like for example the first man who stepped on the Moon?
Well I'm not sure that NASA actually decided it, I think that probably it was as much a crew matter as it was a policy matter for NASA. But the commander takes the lead in such steps, and I think that when we have the first landing on Mars, the flight's commander will probably put the first steps on that planet as well, just like we did on the Moon. But I think NASA doesn't really get involved in policy matters at that level. That's the type of thing that the crew decides.
Nicholas from Lancaster, California
Is it cool to look at Earth in space?
Yeah, it really is. We touched upon this a minute ago about what you can see, but let me extend the conversation just a little bit further and talk about the oceans. When I'd go out to fly I'd take a lot of time studying the atlas and so I knew the international boundaries, and the river valleys, the major cities were going to be along our flight path, I'd study them rather extensively. But I forgot to study the oceans, you know, and when you look at an atlas, what you see are mostly land masses. But some of the most beautiful parts of the planet are the oceans. All the islands in the Indian Ocean look like strings of pearls, and other islands look like emeralds and rubies, the coral reefs, the Great Barrier Reef off of Australia, they're absolutely fascinating to look at. When we flew, Kilauea in Hawaii was erupting, and you could see that from space! So you know, you get a tremendous opportunity to see the planet and see really interesting things that are going on on the planet. At the same time, I have to tell you that you can see environmental damage done to the planet, the hidden activity it has caused, and that's distressing. We really need to worry about that, and I think astronauts and cosmonauts the world over have come back from their first mission with a renewed appreciation for how fragile the planet is, and how we have to take care of it.... The very best pictures that have come back, on the IMAX film, were just fascinating to look at, but it still doesn't come close to what the human eye sees out the window. It's not like being there.
Alex from Birmingham
What courses did you take in school and college that you think impacted you becoming an astronaut the most? Other than staying in school and going to college, what was the most influential thing you did to become an astronaut?
I'll start at the very beginning, and that is math and science. Math and science are the basic building blocks of the profession of the astronaut. All of the test pilots are also engineering graduates, so if you're a pilot or commander of a space shuttle, you've got an engineering background at a very high level, for the most part a Master's degree in engineering. So you've got to understand math and you've got to understand science in order to progress. As you go into the university environment, finding yourself active in a major that's going to be useful to NASA and the space program, and that can be in biology, it can be in chemistry, it can be in physics, it can be in astronomy, it also can be in the engineering field, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, aeronautical engineering, all of these things are important building blocks. In terms of my own experience, I guess it goes back to my high school days when I first read about airplanes traveling 1,000 miles an hour, I thought that was just an awesome number, that an airplane could travel 1,000 miles an hour. Well of course we do a lot better than that today. The space shuttle goes 18,000 miles an hour. It's interesting how far we've progressed.
Meryl from Thomasville, Georgia
Which scientific and technological advances will be most important for the development of the national and international space programs over the next 20 years? Thank you!
Clearly, propulsion is the leading candidate for increased output in terms of technology, and we need to do a better job with propulsion if we're going to realistically have an opportunity to go beyond the immediate neighborhood, and that is Earth, the Moon and Mars. So we've got to figure out how to do advanced propulsion. Even when you look at a round-trip mission to Mars, advanced propulsion, while perhaps not absolutely necessary, could clearly make the mission shorter and more doable, and therefore perhaps cheaper. In addition to that, we need to get better materials. We need materials which will allow us to build lighter spacecraft, so we don't have to carry so much fuel to accelerate on trans-planetary missions. The final thing I'll mention, other than materials and propulsion, is that we have to do a better job of doing design integration, and that's a technology in itself. We've had a number of demonstrations over the years of how we can do that well, but clearly we could do it better, and the more complex the mission, the more complex the hardware, and the more importance you have to give to design integration.
Melvin from Blacksburg, Virginia
I was doing my homework of Astromechanics and I was wondering if you could help me...just kidding ;) More seriously I would like to know what it takes to be an astronaut. I understand that you must have a good resume and be in good physical condition but besides that? What about your mind? How do you manage the stress? Are you also trained to manage that or is it a "natural talent?" Congratulations and good luck for the mission.
I don't think there's anything natural about managing stress. I think it has to do with background, experience, and a lot to do with training. NASA does a really terrific job of training people to tolerate a high-stress environment. Living in those simulators and learning how to deal with emergency after emergency after emergency makes spaceflight seem routine when you get into the real thing and you find out the hardware operates as it's supposed to, rather than having a continuous string of problems. The NASA environmental adaptation of astronauts into a high-stress environment is, I think, one of the strong points of the agency.
Carol from Denver
What does it feel like physically during liftoff?
I call it rock-and-roll time out on the launch pad! There's a tremendous amount of noise and vibration and the solid rocket motors go off and you're absolutely certain of one thing, you're going to go somewhere! And you're accelerating up off the launch pad at a higher rate than the hottest sports car in the world can accelerate horizontally and you're doing it vertically. If you're seated in one of the two flight deck mission specialist seats, you can look back over your shoulder and out the window and watch yourself come off the launch pad and it's an awesome sight out there. You know. You can see all the steam and flames down on the launch pad as you accelerate up. It's a scary environment. I tell my friends that I've flown 96 combat missions, I've flown twice in space and I've been married to the same woman for 41 years, and well, I don't scare real easily! But I'll tell you what -- something really special is going on, up on that launch pad.
Jennifer from Clifton
If you could give any advice to an aspiring astronaut, what would it be?
I would say it's to learn to do better than you're capable of, to learn how to make the maximum use of your time, learn to make the proper decisions about using your time, and to accept nothing from yourself that is below what your expectations are for others. It's critically important that people learn that they can excel in life and how well they can excel in life. That's an awfully important lesson.
Stephen from Wrexham
Do you suit up for re-entry?
Yes you do. Now I didn't, in my day on the shuttle we flew in a shirtsleeve environment, except we wore a helmet and aviation boots. But the rest of our clothing was pretty routine. But after the Challenger accident, we began to fly the astronauts up and back down in partial pressure suits. And these are the same kinds of suits that military aviators fly in high-altitude aircraft. The important reason for flying those is, in the event of a depressurization, or the requirement for a high-altitude bailout, that the astronauts' bodies are protected from the very low pressures that you can find outside the cockpit at high altitudes. So that's why they wear them -- they're not comfortable. The fellows that are out there on the launch pad right now are sitting on their backs in those seats, wearing those suits, are going to feel pressure points on various parts of their bodies, and it's not very comfortable.
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center