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STS-113 Astronaut Astronaut Experience -- Day Four
Question and Answer Board

Panu from Brighton, United Kingdom
First of all, bon voyage to the STS-113 crew. I'm coming to see the STS-107 launch in January, so I'll see you there, but... just for interest, what age limits are there with operative astronauts, what's the youngest and oldest age that an astronaut can fly?
There really aren't limits per se, I guess the youngest that has ever flown was with me, Sally Ride, she was 31 years old when she flew and the oldest to date has been Story Musgrave and he was 61. There's about a 30-year difference between the oldest and the youngest.

Host: What about John Glenn?
Expert: John Glenn, in my mind, is one of the premiere astronauts. He was 77 when he last flew but was not what we call an active duty astronaut "technically," but in my mind he is still an astronaut so the oldest that ever flew was John Glenn who was 77. I'm going to come back 20 years from now and break that record.
Chris from Bristol
From the astronaut's perspective, what exactly is it like to see the Sun rise over the horizon of the Earth in outer space? Is it truly the most amazing sight ever?
Well, it is not the most amazing but it is spectacular. You have to remember you are going around the Earth every hour and a half at 18,000 miles an hour. Whereas it take about 20 minutes or so for the Sun to rise and go down on Earth, where on orbit it only takes the Sun about five to ten seconds to blossom as you come around the edge of the Earth at 25 times the speed of sound. We go from darkness to light, just like that! And light to darkness, just like that! You get to see 16 of them everyday, every hour and half you get to see a sunrise and sunset.
Emilio Pérez from Lugo, Spain
Do you think the SKYLAB assembly was more difficult than ISS, because you used 70's technology?
I think it is like comparing apples and oranges. Back in the 70's the SKYLAB was the most…fanciest thing we had going then, so as society progresses and technology advances, of course you'll get a more complicated machine, that's just normal. Back in the 70's the SKYLAB was a wonderful machine and today the ISS is a wonderful machine.
Ewan McLennan from Christ Church, New Zealand
Does it ever get boring in orbit?
I don't think so, particularly in a space shuttle. You know we are only up there for days or a week or two at one time. Everything is challenged, it's scheduled, and every 15 to 20 minutes we know exactly what we should be doing. So there's really not a lot of lax time. I haven't spent six months on orbit or one year on orbit like a couple of my astronaut friends, but perhaps if you are up there for that long period of time you may have periods of boredom but I can't imagine it.

Host: Host: Do you feel isolated?
Expert: Not really, in the space shuttle we have two floors, a mid-deck and a flight deck and you have five, six or seven crewmembers so it's never boring or lonely. You don't suffer from boredom up there.
Rich O. from Elk Grove
When you are on the dark side of the Earth, what does space look like? What do the stars look like, and how many more do you see from the dark side?
One of the two things that impressed me most from the darkside was looking back at Earth and the most impressive is that you can see the whole outline of the United States by the lighting patterns. You can follow the west coast, the Gulf of Mexico and the isthmus of Florida and back up the east coast. Just by the lighted patterns you can pick out countries and virtually all the inhabited parts of the world are essentially lit up. That is good and bad I guess. Looking the opposite directions out into the depths of space it is so crystal clear when you are viewing the stars and the planets and the universe, it is so bright as a matter of fact that we can't have our navigation stars within the Milky Way.

It's one broad band of light when you are above the atmosphere and have the clarity of the depths of space.
Iv Shanglin from Dalian, China
Can you tell me why you would become an astronaut, which would make you leave your family so far behind?
Well, you want to be an astronaut, for pilots particularly because it's the best that you can be. I think anybody in their profession wants to be the best that they can be. As far as being that far from your family we are only 200-300 miles above the Earth so we are only 200-300 miles further away then we would normally be. If I were to leave here and go to China I would be much further away from my family then I would be in the space shuttle. It's just that I'm going around the Earth every hour and a half.

Host: Now what if you were up on the ISS for six months, how would you feel?
Expert: That's a different story. On the space shuttle the longest we have been up there was for 17 days. But if you go up for six or seven months or in the case of my Russian friends who was up there for a year. It would be more difficult of course, but realizing that we do have closed-circuit telephone systems and AMYL. We have AMYL now. We can use AMYL from space to home so you have a closer contact with your family then we did earlier in the space program.
Greg from Cabarita Beach
What does it feel like when you re-enter the Earth's atmosphere?
It's a...well if you can imagine, it takes us only eight and half minutes to get into space from the time we liftoff here from the Kennedy Space Center. Coming back in it takes an hour from the time we turn around backwards, fire our engines, slow down and start our reentry process it is about an hour from the burn until we touch down here at the Kennedy Space Center. You have to readapt from being in zero-gravity or weightlessness for however long you have been up there and start getting use to the first twinges of gravity. I remember when we experienced a tenth of a G, certainly when you are back up to one G you feel like you weigh 4,000 pounds. By the time you are on the runway at the Kennedy Space Center you think I'm not going to be able to get up out of my chair. So it takes a day or two to get back to Earth.

Host: Do you feel the heat in the crew modules?
Expert: Sure do, it gets to about 3,000 degrees on the bottom of the space shuttle so to prepare ourselves for that we turn down the air conditioning, so to speak, to the coolest mode and get the cabin as cool as we can get it, knowing that some of that soak back or some of heat that is on the outside of the vehicle is going to soak through the protective tiles, through the skin of the aircraft and into the cockpit. So we try to cool it as best we can, knowing that when we land here at Kennedy or wherever, particularly on a hot day it can get up into the 90s inside the cockpit before we get the door open and get out of the shuttle. We tried to get it down to 68 degrees Fahrenheit inside the shuttle before the reentry knowing that it will climb maybe 30 degrees by the time we get on the hot runway here.
Ashley from Minneapolis
How do I get my name out there when I'm older that I want to be an astronaut and what should I do in college to help? (I want to work in navigation)
I wouldn't wait until I was older or out of college. I'd start thinking about it now. If you want to be an astronaut this is the time to start thinking about it. College is very important; most of the astronauts have at least a Masters degree today, which means we have been to college for five or six years... and that's pilots. Mission Specialists have been in school for seven, eight or nine years. A lot of them are medical doctors or have their doctorates in science and engineering so college is the most important thing. It is not really where you go. It's how you do when you are there. You not only have to go to college but you have to do a good job no matter where you are and get that education. NASA is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; we are dedicated to science and research in technology so obviously we want our people to be engineers, doctors and scientists, and the broad spectrum, astrophysicist to oceanographer. Kathy Sullivan on my flight was an oceanographer, Sally Ride was astrophysicist, and Paul Sculley Power was an oceanographer, so it's a wide spectrum of sciences.

For more information on the curriculum that you would need for astronaut qualification, biographies, training and fact sheets:

We sure need some astronauts, some technicians, engineers, scientists, and if you can't remember all that, go to and they can direct you where to go. We'd love to have you.
Bill from York, Maine
Is it as much fun walking in space as it looks on TV?
It must be! I didn't get to do it. For some reason, NASA wants the pilots to stay inside so the mission specialists get to do the spacewalks on orbit and it's our job as the pilots to suit them up, check out their systems and monitor their progress when they are outside. It is something I surely would of loved to have done. I've talked to a lot of folks who have done it and it is one of the most exciting parts of flying in space is to have that opportunity to go outside the spaceship, whatever it may be and do a space walk.
Mike from Ellicott City
John F. Kennedy loved the Space Program and set the goal of landing on the Moon. As you launch do you ever have thoughts of the late president and getting back to the Moon?
I do! I have a great respect for JFK and what he did back in the 60's to get us to where we are today. If he didn't have the vision to set know he's the guy that challenged us in 1961 to go to the Moon and to do it by the end of the 60's. It was a great political decision and I admire him for doing that, and most us in this business are happy that he made that comment. We are also happy that he said... that he challenged us to go to the Moon but also finished it by saying and bring them back. We were excited that he finished it that way. That is a very important piece.

Host: If you had the opportunity would you like to go to the Moon?
Expert: I would love to. What can you say? We've only had 12 men in the history of the universe or the history of our solar system, who know about the universe. But we've only had 12 folks as far as we know that have left this planet of ours, called Earth, and go to the nearest planet, called Moon, and placed their feet on the surface. I would have loved to have had that opportunity. I'd go and do it, if they ever restore the program.
Maegan from Castle Rock, Colorado
I would like to know why space does not have any weight?
Wow, that's a toughie. You and I talked about that before and we would have to get into scientific notation and a lot of equations to explain that but basically there is weight in space. You have weight, you have mass, it's just inside the shuttle you have forces that are matching, centrifugal and gravity that keeps you in the middle so it looks like and feels like you are floating in weightlessness. But you have weight. I have the same weight and mass that I have in the studio with you, it is just that my weight and my mass are matched these countering forces in space so that it feels like I am floating. You are actually falling is what you are doing, falling around the Earth continually. It is a difficult thing to understand in one minute.
Luca from Milano, Italy
Has any astronaut changed his life philosophy after his first flight into space?
Oh I think so. We have had a lot of astronauts, particularly back during the Apollo days, in the early days of the space program, that were effected radically by their flights into space. They have written lots of books and have talked to a lot of people about those experiences. I think that has happened more so in the early stages than it does these days in the space shuttle and that is because we have opportunities to fly many times. We have astronauts that have flown six times, Franklin Chang-Diaz has flown seven times, so it's not so much a one-time thing of preparing to go to the Moon and then coming back and having some kind of let down. The space shuttle, we train, we fly, we come back, we train, we fly, we come back. So it is a repetitive thing and it really never gets boring.
Steve from Belford
How long will the space station stay in orbit and what does it feel like to live in zero gravity for six months?
If we are talking about the current space station, the International Space Station, Alpha, we are thinking it can be there for 10, 20, 30, 40 years, who knows. We have started a continual human presence in space a couple of years ago when we sent our first crew up there, and we've had people in space now for two continuous years. And we foresee that to go on for many decades or maybe even a century, who knows. We may have started something that will go on for a millennium.
Sarah from Antioch
Do you think we will return to the Moon first, or go to Mars?
You have to open up your dictionary and turn to P for politics. That will determine that. It could be both. What we may do is go back to the Moon to set up a base to fabricate our spacecraft that will then leave from the Moon to go to Mars. So it could be both.
Bronwyn from Kingston
How long from now do you think we will go to Mars?
It is kind of back to the political thing again. It is going to take a political decision today much like it did back in the 60s when JFK said let's go to the moon. Somebody, President Bush and/or leaders of the other countries are going to have to stand up together, collectively, we hope, and say let's go to Mars. NASA, ESA and Russia, let's come up with a plan. If we had that challenge tomorrow morning, it's still going to take us about 10 to 15 years to develop the final technologies. But most importantly, and a lot of people agree, the biggest challenge will be more psychological than it is technological. Because it is a year over and essentially a year back and you don't want to go there and spend one day, so you are looking at a two, two and half year voyage and most of it in the deep darkness of space transiting from here to Mars. It's going to take special people to do that. Do we pick all women, do we pick all men, is it half and half and where do they come from and what kind of backgrounds. Those I believe will be the biggest hurdles.
James Kelley from Canandaigua, New York
On launch day, what goes though your mind as you're being strapped in?
The biggest thing on my mind was, I've got to do my job and I've got to do it right. I have a lot of people depending on me. Consequently, you are so consumed with your job, as I can guarantee you that they are right now out there on the top of that stack while they're preparing the launch they are concerned primarily with their crewmembers, their spaceship and doing their job correctly.

Host: Are you anxious; is there anxiety, nervousness?
Expert: You would be if we just went out there and got into the space shuttle and launched. There would be a lot of anxiety, but fortunately, back in Houston, Texas the training that we go through is so realistic, so challenging, and so rigorous that - I won't say it's inconsequential to come down here and get into the space shuttle and fly, but we've seen just about everything you could imagine in the simulators in Houston that so well prepares us for us to come down and go to the real thing and fly that it' go through the countdown sequence, go to T-zero and launch. You get into orbit just like you do in the simulator that it's almost transparent.
Nicholas from Durham
I am four years old. I want to be an astronaut. What do I have to do to become an astronaut? What do you eat when you are in the space shuttle? Do you eat an apple?
Yes, I did eat an apple. We do take some fresh fruits and vegetables up with us and that lasts for a day or two. We don't have a refrigerator so they have to go first. After that what do we eat, we have a menu at Houston where we order from, maybe 500 different items from mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese, Italian vegetables, steak. I like filet mignon and I like to cap it off with a strawberry shortcake. The menu is varied and it is tasty. It has gotten a lot better in the last 40 years. We don't squeeze things out of tubes anymore. It's freeze-dried, a lot of it, but you reconstitute it with water, heat it in the oven and taste very good. They do a fabulous job in Houston preparing the food.
Leandro from SP, Brazil
How many times do you do on the ground what you will do from take off to the landing?
You do it many, many times and one of the keywords at NASA is practice, practice, practice, practice. You can't do it enough and you'll know when you are ready to do your spacewalk, launch your satellite, act as a pilot to fly up and fly back. We get a good feeling for what it takes. We have done it enough to get a good feeling for it. This is the 113th, 112th flight so we have a lot of experience and know what it takes to train our crews. We do it many, many times on the ground before we go up into space. We train more for the unpredictability then we do for the predictability.
Leisa from Omaha
What effects does weightlessness have on your digestive system? Is it difficult to eat when you return to Earth after a mission?
It is more difficult to eat when you go into space than when you come back from space. Coming back you regain your appetite pretty quickly. Going up it takes the body one or two days to figure what to do with this food, how to process it in zero gravity. I advise all the youngsters that are flying for the first time, don't eat a big breakfast.
Cindy from Mt. Arlington
Who decides where and what you do once you are chosen as an astronaut?
Where and what you do, I guess a lot of it is depends upon the Chief at the Astronaut Office at Houston, the Director of Flight Operations, the Center Director, the NASA Administrator. What you do is there is a team over there that chooses astronauts for flight. They look at the requirements that are needed for a mission like this one, and see who you have in your pool of astronauts available. Some of them are going to be flying, some of them are going to be training to fly already, some will just have flown. There's a certain amount that you can pick from so you match them with the requirements and that is how we get our crews for the flights.
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center