Q

(Timothy Ryan Donahoe asks): What skills, as an applicant in general and specifically as a physician, make a successful astronaut?

A

Astronauts are by definition generalists. This is why I think EM is also well suited to the profession, Being widely versed in many different fields really helps, since astronauts have to not just serve as docs but also flight engineers, IT specialist, photo/TV experts, roboticists, spacewalkers and many other trades.


 

Q

(Timothy Ryan Donahoe asks): What do you think will change about the space program by the time I am seriously considering applying (10-15 years from now), and how do you think a successful applicant in the near future will be different from one today? 

A

Very similar, although the tools of being a generalist will change. You’ll need to be able to design in CAD, print models in 3-D, code your own software, machine your own devices and so on. Being a Maker is the best prep for the future astronaut corps…


Q

(Timothy Ryan Donahoe asks): The paths that physician-astronauts generally take to get involved with the space program (though there are many, which seem to be the most common?)

A

I was enamored with neurosurgery as a clinical specialty, but I finally realized that if they needed a neurosurgeon in space it was probably too late… As a result, I think the best prep for space medicine (and the challenges for distant space exploration as well) is Emergency Medicine. General Surgery would also be a good prep, with my next choice being Family Practice. Having some research background relevant to the space program is also very important.


 

Q
 (Sebastian Kozlik asks): What are the lessons learned from construction of the space station? The space adventure started out with some bold pioneer missions taking part in a fast pace. Currently it seems that exploration strategy changed towards safer and prolonged stay on LEO, with all activities focused on space stations. But on the other hand there is no significant plans to move further into deep space (for example – no moon base plans).

Do you feel that a space station is a bold step forward in exploration or just a base to stop, look back, and make more preparations for future generations of astronauts?

A THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION PROGRAM HAS ADVANCED THE WORLD’S ABILITY TO LIVE AND WORK IN SPACE, ADDRESSING MAJOR SCIENTIFIC AND ENGINEERING PROBLEMS ON EARTH AND FOR EXPLORATION BEYOND. TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST FROM AROUND THE WORLD, AND SHARING COSTS, MAKES GREAT ENGINEERING, OPERATIONAL AND POLITICAL SENSE. HAD THE UNITED STATES NOT JOINED FORCES WITH OUR INTERNATIONAL PARTNERS, THE ISS WOULD HAVE NEVER SUCCEEDED: OUR PHASE I PROGRAM HELPED SUSTAIN THE MIR SPACE STATION IN ITS FINAL DAYS, AND THE RUSSIAN SOYUZ KEPT THE ISS CREWED IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE SPACE SHUTTLE COLUMBIA TRAGEDY.

THE ISS IS A FANTASTIC RESEARCH PLATFORM TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE HIGH VANTAGE POINT AND MICROGRAVITY OF SPACE FOR SCIENCE ON EARTH (BIOMEDICAL, MATERIAL SCIENCE AND PHYSICS RESEARCH, AS WELL AS GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE MONITORING). MOREOVER, IT WILL BE AN INVALUABLE TESTBED FOR DEVELOPMENT OF RELIABLE LIFE SUPPORT (AND OTHER) SYSTEMS FOR BEYOND EARTH ORBIT EXPLORATION.

DO I WISH WE’D JUMPED BACK TO THE MOON AND VENTURED OFF TO MARS SOONER? YES, MOST DEFINITELY, BUT I THINK THE PHASED APPROACH THAT HAS BEEN TAKEN SO FAR HAS WORKED WELL, GIVEN FUNDING AND POLITICAL REALITIES.


Q (Michał Solnica asks): How did your adventure with mountaineering start, now that you just climbed Mt. Everest? Are you planning to go to the “Roof of the World” again? What does a man feel, finally reaching the peak of the Earth after a lot of obstacles?

A I BEGAN READING ABOUT THE WORLD’S GREAT EXPLORERS AS A YOUNG BOY: HILLARY, MALLORY, GLENN, GAGARIN, ARMSTRONG, COUSTEAU AND THE LIKE. WITH RESPECT TO MOUTAINEERING, I BEGAN CLIMBING IN EARNEST AT AGE 15 WHEN I WAS LIVING IN GREECE — BASICALLY JUST ROCK SCRAMBLES ON THE STEEP HILLS NEAR MY HOME. ONCE I’D MASTERED SOME BASIC SKILLS, AND BECOME HOOKED ON THE ADVENTURE OF IT ALL, I LEARNED HOW TO ROCK CLIMB. AS THE YEARS PASSED, I BECAME MORE INTERESTED IN ICE CLIMBING AND WINTER MOUNTAINEERING. “ADDICTED” TO MOUNTAINS, THE ULTIMATE TEST PIECE AND CHALLENGE BECAME EVEREST. HAVING READ ALMOST EVERY BOOK EVER WRITTEN ABOUT THIS GREAT MOUNTAIN, IT WAS INEVITABLE THAT I’D GIVE IT A TRY ONE DAY…

IT’S HARD FOR ME TO PUT INTO WORDS THE EUPHORIA ONE FEELS WHEN STANDING — SITTING, ACTUALLY! — ON TOP OF THE WORLD. FOR ME THE STRUGGLE TOOK TWO FULL SEASONS AND FOUR MONTHS AT EXTREME ALTITUDE TO SUCCEED: I RUPTURED A DISC IN MY LOW BACK ON MY FIRST SUMMIT BID IN MAY OF 2008, AND HAD TO COME BACK THE FOLLOWING YEAR TO TRY AGAIN. I THINK BECAUSE OF THE “DELAYED GRATIFICATION” AND PAIN INVOLVED WITH MY TIME ON EVEREST, I CHERISH THOSE 30 MINUTES ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD EVERY BIT AS MUCH AS MY FIRST SHUTTLE LAUNCH… I COULD CLEARLY SEE THE CURVATURE OF THE EARTH FROM THE SUMMIT, AND I MANAGED TO SEE THE EQUIVALENT OF AN “ORBITAL SUNRISE” FROM ON TOP AS WELL. THE MAIN DIFFERENCE FROM A REAL ORBITAL SUNRISE AND MY VANTAGE POINT ON EVEREST WAS THE DURATION: A SUNRISE FROM ORBIT IS SPECTACULARLY BEAUTIFUL, BUT IT LASTS ONLY A COUPLE OF MINUTES; ON EVEREST I WAS ABLE TO SAVOR THE FULL SPECTRUM OF LIGHT ACROSS THE HORIZON FOR SEVERAL MINUTES!


Q (Jakub Jedrzejewski asks): What does one feel when spacewalking for the first time? What kind of emotions can be felt? Are they the same with each spacewalk?

A I RECALL BEING QUITE ANXIOUS MY FIRST SPACEWALK, KNOWING THAT I HAD A VERY IMPORTANT MISSION AND WANTING TO GET ALL MY TASKS COMPLETE. FLOATING OUT THE HATCH, I WAS FOCUSED ON GETTING THE JOB DONE ABOVE ALL ELSE (TO RETRIEVE FOUR EXPERIMENT PACKAGES ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE RUSSIAN SPACE STATION MIR, TEST OUT AN INTEROPERABLE FOOT RESTRAINT, TRANSFER A REPAIR KIT FOR THE SPEKTR MODULE WHICH HAD BEEN BREACHED BY A PROGRESS RESUPPLY SHIP, AND PERFORM A FLIGHT TEST OF A RESCUE JET-PACK CALLED SAFER).

SOON AFTER I’D EGRESSED THE HATCH, MY SAFETY TETHER REEL FROZE, RESULTING IN SEVERAL FEET OF STEEL METAL BRAID CABLE SNAKING AROUND ME. CONCERNED THAT THE CABLE WOULD SNAG ME OR MY PARTNER, VLADIMIR TITOV, I HAD TO BUNDLE UP THE MESS AND CONTINUE ON WITH A HAND-OVER-HAND TETHER PROTOCOL, NOT DISSIMILAR TO ICE CLIMBING. IT WAS ONLY THEN THAT I REALIZED THAT I’D BE ABLE TO CONTINUE MY SPACEWALK TO COMPLETION, AND I THEN BEGAN TO RELAX. WE GOT OUR ENTIRE EVA DONE IN 5 HOURS AND 1 MINUTE, EXACTLY AS PLANNED (DESPITE DELAY WITH THE TETHER REEL AND ANOTHER ANOMALY WITH OUR EXPERIMENT PACKAGES), AND I WAS THEN ABLE TO SAVOR THE VIEW: I REMEMBER VLADIMIR POINTING OUT LAKE TITICACA IN THE ANDES, AND SEEING A SUNRISE I’LL NEVER FORGET…!

I WAS FORTUNATE TO PERFORM EVAS ON TWO OTHER MISSIONS, BOTH TO THE ISS. WITH EACH OF THESE, I WAS ABLE TO TRULY ABSORB THE VISTAS TO EARTH AND BEYOND. MY MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS INCLUDE PHYSICALLY FLYING THROUGH THE NORTHERN LIGHTS (AURORA) AND LOOKING DOWN ON 1000’S OF SQUARE MILES OF LIGHTNING COVERING MUCH OF AUSTRALIA AT NIGHT (KNOWN AS MESOSCALE LIGHTNING).

IN CLOSING, I’D SAY THAT YOU FEEL INCREDIBLY SMALL WHEN OUTSIDE ON A SPACEWALK, DWARFED BY THE HOME PLANET AND THE UNIVERSE BEYOND. IT’S A PROFOUND LIFE EXPERIENCE, AND CERTAINLY THE ULTIMATE ASTRONAUT EXPERIENCE!


Q (Robert Kozieł asks): Hi! Are there any consequences of long-duration stays in space which are irreversible? Five Russian cosmonauts stayed longer than 300 days in space. Since Valery Polakow record stay of 438 days in space in 1995 no flights exceeding six months are performed. Are such long time stays seen as inhumane? I admire astronauts, who leave the shuttle after two week long missions without bigger problems. Has there been a large progress of adaptation techniques? And how do other mammals react after long spaceflights (even much longer that the human stays). How do they react to the gravity shock – if such experiments were ever performed. Can such long flight lead to the death on the animal?
Best wishes to you Scott

A THERE HAS BEEN SUBSTANTIAL PROGRESS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF COUNTERMEASURES FOR LONG DURATION MICROGRAVITY EXPOSURE, ALTHOUGH THERE IS SIGNIFICANT WORK YET TO BE DONE. VALERY POLYAKOV HAD TO EXERCISE UP TO 4 HOURS EACH DAY, AND STILL CAME BACK WITH BONE AND MUSCLE LOSSES. WE’VE DEVELOPED EXCELLENT EXERCISE COUNTERMEASURES, AND PHARMACOLOGIC INTERVENTIONS (MEDICINES) ALSO HAVE POTENTIAL TO REDUCE BONE LOSS AND EVEN HELP WITH RADIATION EXPOSURES.

SIX MONTHS IS PROBABLY THE OPTIMAL DURATION FOR AN ISS MISSION, BUT A MISSION TO MARS, LIKELY 9 MONTHS IN TRANSIT EACH WAY WITH CURRENT PROPULSION TECHNOLOGIES, IS CERTAINLY FEASIBLE. THE GREATEST CHALLENGE IS RADIATION EXPOSURE, HOWEVER, AND PROTECTIVE COUNTERMEASURES AREN’T CURRENTLY AVAILABLE. IN INTERPLANETARY SPACE, CREWS WILL BE EXPOSED TO GALACTIC COSMIC RADIATION AS WELL AS SOLAR PARTICLE EVENTS, AND WITHOUT THE EARTH’S PROTECTIVE MAGNETIC FIELD, SUCH EXPOSURES MIGHT BE FATAL. AS A RESULT, MUCH RESEARCH IS BEING DONE TO UNDERSTAND THE HEALTH EFFECTS AND POSSIBLE SHIELDING STRATEGIES FOR DEEP SPACE.

SEVERAL TYPES OF ANIMALS AND PLANTS HAVE VISITED SPACE — DOGS, CHIMPANZEES, FISH, FROGS, SPIDERS, BIRDS, WHEAT, ONIONS AND OTHERS — AND LIKE HUMANS, TEND TO ADAPT TO MICROGRAVITY QUITE WELL (NONE HAVE SPENT LONGER THAN HUMANS, HOWEVER — MOST FLIGHTS WERE ON THE ORDER OF A FEW DAYS TO A COUPLE OF WEEKS). THE CHALLENGE FOR ALL HIGHER MAMMALS IS NOT THE TRIP UP TO SPACE, BUT THE READAPTATION TO EARTH’S GRAVITY AFTER “DECONDITIONING” IN SPACE…!


Q (Michal Lewandowski asks): Are there any telescopes and instruments on the ISS to observe deep space? As I know one of the biggest problems while making observations from Earth is water vapor in the atmosphere. There is none of it at the ISS orbit – so one may think the observations would be a lot better.

A THE SKYLAB AND MIR STATIONS HAD ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATORIES ASSOCIATED WITH THESE COMPLEXES, BUT NO MAJOR TELESCOPES EXIST ABOARD ISS — YET. THE CHALLENGE IS THAT ISS MAINTAINS A CONSISTENT ORIENTATION RELATIVE TO EARTH AS IT ORBITS THE PLANET: A SPACE TELESCOPE ATTACHED TO ISS WOULD THEREFORE HAVE TO ACTIVELY POINT TO A STAR AS THE STATION ORBITS. MOREOVER, JITTER ASSOCIATED WITH CREW EXERCISE AND THRUSTER FIRINGS MAKE STABLE POINTING DIFFICULT. THAT SAID, THERE ARE SOME CONCEPTS FOR REMOTELY-POINTED TELESCOPES ON ISS, BUT NONE HAVE BEEN LAUNCHED TO DATE.

A BETTER SOLUTION IS TO USE A FREE-FLYING SPACE TELESCOPE, AND NASA HAS LAUNCHED SEVERAL REVOLUTIONARY OBSERVATORIES THAT CONTINUE TO REWRITE THE ASTRONOMY AND ASTROPHYSICS TEXT BOOKS: HUBBLE, CHANDRA, SPITZER AND COBE ARE AMONG JUST A FEW. THE JAMES WEBB IS THE NEXT GREAT OBSERVATORY PLANNED FOR LAUNCH IN THE COMING YEARS.


Q (Heather Smith asks): Why did you retire from NASA? Is there anything in your career that you haven’t accomplished or would like to do over? Also, do you keep in touch with other astronauts?

A Although I’d have loved to fly missions until I could no longer pass the flight physicals, it was time to make way for the new guys in the Astronaut Corps. The Space Shuttle Program is about to retire, and it would’ve been a very long time before I could’ve gotten back in line for a long duration ISS mission — it just seemed like the perfect time to go off to new adventures (like Mount Everest and the private sector). I’d love to go back for another EVA flight, or perhaps even a long ISS mission, but with 5 Shuttle trips and 7 spacewalks behind me I’m so very grateful for the opportunities I had! As for staying in touch with my former astronaut colleagues, the answer is a most definite yes. It’s a very small, tight-knit community, and having worked very closely with many crews over the years, they’re among my best friends. Since I still live in Houston, I see members of the current Astronaut Corps frequently, as well as those who’ve retired locally. I also get a chance to see many others at our astronaut reunions, typically held every other year here in Houston.


Q (Mikael Boström asks): Do you feel a temperature increase during re-entry due to the massive temperature increase outside the spacecraft?

A The internal volume of the Space Shuttle flight deck and middeck is insulated from the temperature extremes of atmospheric entry, some points of the vehicle approaching 3000 degrees Fahrenheit. We do “pre-cool” the cabin beginning the night before coming home, however, by setting the cabin thermostat to a chilly temperature. We do this because we’ll be wearing our orange “Pumpkin suits” for the ride home. Even with liquid cooling inside the suits, the suits can become a sauna without a cool cabin.


Q (Mikael Boström asks): With all of the communication, military, and scientific satellites orbiting the earth, how much traffic does the Space Shuttle have to worry about?

A The quick answer is “An infinite amount!” Check out this model of orbital debris [HERE], all of which is traveling at enormous speeds, and in orbits not necessarily co-aligned with the Space Shuttle or the International Space Station. Every Shuttle mission I flew came back with micrometeroid debris strikes, including a couple to the orbiter’s windows. According to the experts at Johnson Space Center: “Approximately 19,000 objects larger than 10 cm are known to exist. The estimated population of particles between 1 and 10 cm in diameter is approximately 500,000. The number of particles smaller than 1 cm probably exceeds tens of millions.” The scary part is that we can only routinely track down to 10 cm in size, and a well-aimed BB could be catastrophic.


Q (Mikael Boström asks): Can the Space Shuttle abort and return to Earth before reaching orbit?

A Yes indeed! There are several launch abort modes, depending on how far along the trek to orbit the Shuttle has already traveled. In addition to a pad abort, which obviously takes place before the Shuttle has even left the ground, we have a Return To Launch Site (RTLS) mode, an East Coast Abort Landing (ECAL) mode, a Trans-Atlantic Landing (TAL) mode, an Abort Once Around (AOA) and an Abort To Orbit (ATO). Depending on when a loss of thrust or other major system failure occurs (example: loss of a main engine or a major cabin leak) we can redirect the Shuttle to a safe landing. STS-51F is the only mission that had to abort after launch, but had enough energy to make it to ATO — safely on orbit, but at a reduced orbital altitude.


Q (Mikael Boström asks): What would you like the space program to achieve over the next 10 years?

A I would love to see the United States (NASA) chart a serious course for Mars, with waypoints on the moon and perhaps a Near Earth Object (an asteroid) to test out critical systems first. Ideally this will involve definitive milestones (dates), with a multi-year government commitment and budget to make it reality. I’d also like to see the commercial sector develop independent means to access Low Earth Orbit and the ISS, and to see suborbital space tourism and science flourish.


Q (Mikael Boström asks): If you had a chance, would you go to the moon?

A I would dust off my spacesuit and go in a heartbeat.


Q (Mikael Boström asks): Why does the shuttle fly upside down?

A When the Shuttle is on orbit, we tend to orient the bottom of the vehicle towards deep space. This is to protect the crew compartment and the cargo in the payload bay from micrometeroid debris, and also to lessen the thermal gradients to these same areas. And besides, the view from the Shuttle’s overhead windows is amazing when looking back at earth!


Q (Mikael Boström asks): How fast does the space shuttle travel while traveling in space?

A 17,500 miles per hour, give or take… This translates to 5 miles per second over the earth’s surface, or 90 minutes to take one full lap around the planet.


Q (Mikael Boström asks): Can you see city structures from space?

A A qualified yes: with binoculars or a large telephoto lens, you can see all sorts of things. I’ve seen the Pyramids of Egypt through a 400 mm lens, but without such aids you can only tell you’re overflying Cairo by the shape of the Nile and the grey discoloration that’s common to all cities as seen from space. Large military runways and the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) can be seen with the naked eye, and I recall seeing the Trans-Siberian railway from space as well: the soot from the trains and the villages along the railway discolored the snow of the Siberian plateau.


Q (Merlin Curry asks): Hey Scott, any advice for medical students interested in a career in Emergency Medicine? Have you thought about going back and finishing your EM residency?

A My advice to med students interested in EM is to try and get some early experience in the emergency department, even during your preclinical years. I’ve also had friends train as paramedics first, which certainly helped them in later years. For the first several years as an astronaut, I used to moonlight as an ER doc, and briefly even considered going back to finish my residency. At this point in life, however, I have absolutely no interest in going back… I have plenty of other interesting challenges and adventures in life to pursue.


Q (John asks): Congratulations on your climb to the top of the world on Mt. Everest. As you climbed Everest, did you stop at the point where astronaut Karl Heinze passed away?

A I’m grateful that I had the chance to meet Karl when I was a newly selected astronaut in 1992; he lectured our Astronaut Candidate class on oceanography and meteorology from space, if I recall correctly (he was also an expert on orbital debris). After he left the Astronaut Corps, he returned to science, and also pursued his dream of summiting Everest. He was invited to participate on an expedition to the mountain’s north side (via Tibet) in 1993. By report, he succumbed to high altitude pulmonary edema at Advanced Base Camp (22,000 feet above sea level), and very unfortunately never had the chance to stand on its summit or return home. My route to the summit was from the south (via Nepal), so I didn’t walk past his final resting place, but I did leave one of his Space Shuttle mission patches on the summit to honor he and his family.


Q (Sophie asks): What was the interview process for becoming an astronaut like?

A The interview process was a week-long adventure with 20 others vying for the same dream job. I remember being so very impressed with the lot of them that I questioned whether I really had a shot at the job! There were amazingly qualified military test pilots, scientists and other physicians in my group, and we became surprisingly close through the shared experience. Myself and three others in my interview week (we were called “AS-HO’s” — short for Astronaut Hopefuls, as opposed to ASCAN’s, short for selected Astronaut Candidates) were chosen in March of 1992, and one other interviewee from the week was selected a couple of years later. In addition to the all-important hour and a half interview, we had every test known to medical science performed on us: ultrasounds, sigmoidoscopies, gallons of bloodwork, claustrophobia testing and several psychological screening tests. They also toured us around the Johnson Space Center and all of the training facilities, which was exciting for me to see for the first time.


Q (Sophie asks): What was the purpose of your favorite mission and how did you train for that mission?

A Each mission has incredible memories for me: my first spacewalk on STS-86 while docked to the Russian Space Station Mir, flying with and monitoring medical experiments on Senator John Glenn during STS-95, and building the Canadarm 2 robotic manipulator system while EVA during STS-100. The high point of my NASA career was STS-120, however, when we had to go repair the P6 solar array that had been torn while it was being unfurled. It was a spacewalk no one had ever planned for — and it was developed on the ground in just 72 hours by specialists from all over the country. It was somewhat dangerous, because I had to work on an energized solar panel, and it was at the very tip of the space station, meaning it would take much longer to get back into the safety of the airlock if something went wrong. Thankfully everything went perfectly, which was a testament to the great preparation on the ground by Mission Control, as well as all the outstanding training I had received over the years which allowed me to adapt to the situation.


Q (Sophie asks): What inspired you to go into the space field?

A My father worked on the Apollo Program when I was very young, so I basically grew up in and around the space program. I thought it was the most exciting thing in the universe to send people up into space, and just kept this notion in the back of my mind as I pursued my education.


Q (Lauren asks): When did you first get the idea that you’d like to become an astronaut?
http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=30491992712&topic=5793#
(originally posted on the Stanford Class of ’83 Facebook Page)

AI’ve wanted to fly in space ever since I could walk and talk… Well, maybe a bit older than that — but certainly by age 5 I was fascinated with aviation and space. My Dad worked on the Apollo program, designing the rocket boosters for the Saturn V that first took men to the Moon. I had every Estes model rocket imaginable, plus posters on the walls and a few coveted astronaut-signed photographs. I read everything I could about space exploration, and vividly recall watching Neil and Buzz take those first steps on the Moon when I was 7 years old. I also remember my Dad inviting one of the original German rocket scientists home for dinner one night — not Von Braun, but one of his deputies — and it truly inspired me to want to explore space, and to learn to fly. I guess I never outgrew my boyhood dreams: when I was in medical school at Stanford I had the opportunity to work at NASA-Ames Research Center, just down 101 from campus, and this was my eventual pathway to space. http://www.facebook.com/edittopic.php?action=128&post=28304&uid=30491992712&topic=5793


Q (Lauren asks):I recall seeing you with a luge on the cover of Stanford magazine years ago. What is the most surprising thing about competing as a luger? And were you in the Olympics?
http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=30491992712&topic=5793#
(originally posted on the Stanford Class of ’83 Facebook Page)

A First of all, we luge athletes are kind of sensitive about being called “lugers”… In the future, please refer to us as “sliders!” I’ve always been an athlete and kept in very good shape, briefly running track freshman year and then a couple of years rowing crew during our undergrad years, but I never imagined I’d ever get anywhere near a luge sled. I’d been fascinated by luge for years, my only exposure being the quadrennial Winter Olympics — who could forget the East German coneheads during the 1976 Innsbruck Games? — and envied the racers zooming along at incredible speeds, pulling high G’s… The biggest surprise for me was how quickly those speeds and G’s became “normal” with training: even though it takes substantial spikes of energy to control a sled down a track at 75-85 miles an hour, to really shave a few one-hundredths off your time you have to “relax” while the track is zooming by you… I didn’t actually compete as an Olympian in Calgary, as I’d hoped: I did very well in the U.S. trials (7th, but only 4 get to go), but didn’t quite make the U.S. squad. Instead, I went to Calgary in 1988 as the coach of the powerhouse, 1-man Philippine Olympic Luge Team. [Had I stayed in the sport another 4 years I probably would’ve had a real shot, but my life had other competing priorities by then… ] http://www.facebook.com/edittopic.php?action=128&post=28309&uid=30491992712&topic=5793


Q (Lauren asks): What’s the scariest thing that’s happened to you in your life? (Flying in space? Riding a luge course for the first time? Climbing Everest?)
http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=30491992712&topic=5793#
(originally posted on the Stanford Class of ’83 Facebook Page)

ASome people think that because of some of the things I’ve done in my life that I’m a daredevil or risk-taker. It’s true that I do enjoy challenging myself, and am very adventurous by nature, but I consider myself somewhat cautious in the way I approach things — I “manage risks” rather than taking them blindly. With proper training, and the knowledge that everyone on your team is taking their job every bit as seriously as you are (the engineers and technicians who prepare the Shuttle for launch, as an example), you can go to the launch pad without being scared — although a healthy dose of butterflies is probably warranted! Last fall I had to perform an emergency spacewalk to repair a torn solar array at the very far reaches of the Space Station, and there were concerns that I might be shocked in the process. With just 72 hours to prepare the procedures on the ground, we went out and conducted this spacewalk safely (and without fear) because every member of the team had done a brilliant job of preparing for it…

Riding down a luge track the first time is pure adrenalin, but you don’t take your first run from the very top of the track; instead, you start 2/3 of the way down the track, and are only going 20-25 miles an hour at peak (it still feels like warp speed, though!). Similarly, you build up to climbing Everest by climbing for many years on lesser mountains. Everest actually wasn’t scary to me, as I felt physically and technically prepared for it. Perhaps the biggest scare of my life came on what I thought was going to be a straightforward, single pitch rock climb in Colorado. My ropemate, with whom I’d climbed many times, said he’d belay me on a classic “easy” climb he’d done a few times before. Being the trusting sort, I started up without any questioning, even though easy for John didn’t necessarily mean the same thing for me. It was a “face climb,” with small imperfections on the granite to work up on, but nowhere to place camming devices to protect against a fall. I was 40 feet up without having been able to place a single piece of protection, and a ground fall from there would have meant a “really bad day.” I yelled down to John to find out the rating, which he replied “5.10X” —- the “X” meaning a ground fall would prove fatal — and then I did get pretty scared in the classical sense! With no way to downclimb or protect the pitch, my only way out was to climb up the remaining 20 feet of steep, featureless rock — and then verbally beat up John for not telling me how dangerous the climb was. Upon reflection, it was an important life lesson for me: it was my fault for not asking about the route. We’re each responsible for managing our own risks in life.
http://www.facebook.com/edittopic.php?action=128&post=28316&uid=30491992712&topic=5793


Q (Stephen asks): Hi Scott, What are your thoughts on religion and God? Did being in space affect your views on these matters at all? Does (or should) religion play a role in space exploration?
(originally posted on the Stanford Class of ’83 Facebook Page)

A Seeing our Home Planet from space is extraordinary, and leaves everyone who experiences it with a profound appreciation for our little corner of the universe. The experience is spiritual, regardless of faith, and is never forgotten. I didn’t see God, but was awed by creation just the same. There are many more mysteries than our simple science can explain…
A corollary: it would be impossible to fly in space and not be an environmentalist to some degree.
Religion’s role in space exploration? That’s a very deep question indeed, one that’s better suited to a philosopher than a simple scientist-engineer like me! Maybe others in the ‘83 group can debate the matter and educate me. Not to be a heretic, but I do believe that life probably exists elsewhere in the universe — although we have no evidence that we’ve ever been visited by UFOs or little green men — based on the enormity of the universe, our knowledge that planetary bodies revolve around other star systems, and the very high probability that Earth-similar conditions for life exist elsewhere. Our Earth is amazing, but probably not unique.
A closing (true story) joke: we’re driven out to the launch pad in a modified mobile home called the “Astrovan,” escorted by the Chief of the Astronaut Office. Part way to the pad he gets out, so that he can go fly weather reconnaissance for the launch countdown. On his way out of the van, per longstanding tradition, he says to the crew: “Let’s all bow our heads and pray: God help you if you screw up.” Amen.
http://www.facebook.com/edittopic.php?action=128&post=28713&uid=30491992712&topic=5793


Q (Karen asks):
What, besides Tang-like drinks, are you all feasting on in outer space these days? Did the food improve from your first flight to your most recent one? http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=30491992712&topic=5793#post28713
(originally posted on the Stanford Class of ’83 Facebook Page)

A I vividly remember being an astro-wannabe as a kid, and therefore drinking all sorts of Tang. Great marketing, but I can’t stand the stuff now, for some strange reason.

Back in the early days of the space program, much of the food was pureed and in toothpaste tubes — and none too tasty. The Shuttle era brought a galley, in which we can rehydrate camping-style food, and heat up military style “MREs” (Meals Ready to Eat). We can also take a limited amount of fresh food — my must-have food groups include Oreos and lots of tortillas [We don’t take regular bread, as it crumbles and makes a mess in our closed environment]. I must have espresso in the morning, but space is one place where you can’t find a Starbuck’s on every corner. Instead, I make super-concentrated Kona coffee by adding just a couple of ounces of hot water to the container, instead of the recommended 8… Tea and overly sweet fruit juices round out the drinks — carbonated beverages aren’t available.

I’ve been very fortunate to have international astronauts on all 5 of my missions. Invariably they bring along one or two special meals for the entire crew. Two of my flights included Frenchmen, so meals from a top culinary institute were with us. I’ve also flown with a couple of Italians, and they really know how to eat as well. My crewmates have also hailed from Japan and Spain, each bringing delicacies aboard for us. Borscht from our cosmonaut buddies isn’t half bad either…

The quality of the food probably has improved slightly over the course of my missions — we’ve weeded out some of the near-misses, and the nutritionists have continued to add new items for better variety.http://www.facebook.com/edittopic.php?action=128&post=28791&uid=30491992712&topic=5793