Crew got inspiration from space shuttle moments
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: February 4, 2010
From seeing the space shuttle ride piggyback on a 747 as a little boy to witnessing a launch for the first time, the Endeavour astronauts cherish special memories of the past as they get ready to soar Sunday morning.
Mission specialist Bob Behnken, who grew up near St. Louis, remembers the day he saw one of the space shuttles being transported across the country atop the modified Boeing 747 carrier jet.
"So from a boy to now, I've known the space shuttle program. It's something that I grew up with and got to participate in."
Flight engineer Steve Robinson became an astronaut 15 years ago and has flown flown on three missions so far. But before going on his first voyage, he took in the spectator's view of a shuttle blastoff.
"The first time I ever saw a shuttle launch was after I became an astronaut so I thought it would be probably be wise to go and watch what I'd signed up to do and my goodness, it was almost shockingly different from what you see on TV. I'll never forget hearing and feeling the cracking. The sound is almost too big for the air to handle and the light is almost too bright for your eyes to comprehend and you see this 20-story building-sized thing leap off the ground and go shooting off into the sky. It's just something I didn't really expect, I guess. And then when you're on the inside and all that happens, there's a whole other set of feelings and emotions and excitement," he said.
Another part of the job is spacewalking, and Robinson has logged three excursions in his career.
"Also remember going outside for the first time and looking at the Earth with nothing between my eyeballs and the Earth except a little bit of plexiglass on the helmet. That was just a gift. It was just a blessing to be able to be there and see what I was seeing and no amount of description could ever convey to you what that experience was really like."
Robinson had worked in aerodynamics at NASA's Ames Research Center during development of the space shuttles. Almost a quarter-century later, he was performing a spacewalk outside Discovery to remove a protruding tile gap-filler from the orbiter's heat shield during the initial flight after the Columbia accident.
What's more, Robinson had the good fortune in 1998 to fly in orbit alongside legendary astronaut John Glenn.
"Well, flying with John Glenn was almost surreal because he was a childhood hero of mine and when you're a kid and somebody is sort of this iconic hero, you don't really think they're real. You want to be just like that, so launching in Discovery on STS-95, he was sitting next to me and that was almost surreal. But as it turns out, he's a fantastic aviator, a gentleman like you've never met and has been a friend and mentor to me ever since so that was a great experience."
For commander George Zamka, a stark moment for him was seeing Atlantis launch in 2000 from aboard the weather reconnaissance plane buzzing around the Kennedy Space Center.
"I was with the chief of the astronaut office as he was doing the weather check for the launch of STS-101, and I got to watch the shuttle launch from a predawn morning. It was dark below and to me it looked kind of like a road flare just very slowly ascending and then it broke into the light of the dawn and it was just a spectacular sight. I could see the different colors of the plume as it went up and then I could see the solid rocket boosters tumble as they're re-entering the atmosphere and they were strobing bits of sunlight as the sunlight caught them at different angles and that was a tremendous view," Zamka said.
"I remember my own first ascent, how violent that was and feeling the G's through my chest and what it was like to be part of that experience. I remember looking at the space station for the first time. It was similar to me looking at an aircraft carrier when I was going to go land on it when I was going through flight training. It looked very small at the time, and I thought, 'Oh, my goodness, how are we going to connect to this. How are we going to do this trick?' but I remember how wonderful that was."
Endeavour's rookie pilot Terry Virts, poised to fly in space for the first time Sunday morning, recalls that April morning in 1981 when Columbia made the maiden voyage of the space shuttle program.
"I remember sitting on the couch watching the shuttle launch and I remember that I was anxious and I was ready for the space shuttle launch because it had been years since we had flown an American vehicle," Virts said.
Years later, Virts got to see a shuttle heading into space from the window of his military aircraft.
"I remember one day in 1991, I was a second lieutenant flying F-16s out of McDill Air Force Base over the Gulf of Mexico out of Florida and we were doing an air-to-air engagement and I looked off to the east and I saw this big huge plume of smoke. I couldn't believe it and I called ‘knock it off.' We stopped the flight that we were in and we just looked to the east for a few minutes and watched the shuttle go up and I was amazed that hundreds of miles away I could see this from my F-16. That was a really cool moment."
The astronauts are poised to make new memories during their upcoming two-week mission that will bring the Tranquility module and cupola to the International Space Station.
The module serves a utility room for the orbiting complex, housing large refrigerator-sized racks of equipment such as the oxygen generation and air scrubbing systems, water recycling gear, the toilet and hygiene compartment, and exercise machines. The racks are positioned throughout the station at present.
The seven-windowed cupola will become the control post for operating the station's Canadian-made robotic arm, affording panoramic views for the astronauts.