What do astronauts think of life away from Earth | Human world



Axiom Space is an aerospace manufacturing and services company headquartered in Houston, Texas. It aims, among other things, to host private missions on the International Space Station (ISS). In a video panel discussion posted on YouTube on September 30, 2020, Axiom Space asked four former space shuttle and ISS astronauts to describe, on a personal level, what it’s like to launch from Earth and live in space. The video is called Outer space, inner world.

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The video features NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson, Michael Lopez-Alegria, Rex Walheim, and former NASA administrator and astronaut Charles Bolden.

Woman floating in the ISS multi-window chamber with the white and blue Earth visible through the windows.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson floats aboard the International Space Station, far above the Earth. Image via NASA.

Many who visit space describe an overwhelming and almost transcendental change in perception, which space exploration author Frank White called the “panoramic effect,” explaining:

… is a change of perspective, a feeling of complete uniqueness that comes from the ability to understand the entire planet in a single glance.

And while the vast majority of humans inhabiting Earth will never be able to experience space flight, these NASA astronauts express in this video what the experience is like. Bolden, for example, amassed over 680 hours in space on four space shuttle missions from 1986 to 1994. He recalled his first glance out the window of the space shuttle, saying:

It really changes your perspective on the planet … In my case, as we started east, I looked out the window and saw this big island. At least I thought it was a large island and it turned out to be the African continent, the second largest continent on the planet. And there were no lines and boundaries, and I don’t know why I really expected it to look like a globe, but it didn’t. And all the way from the Mediterranean coast, across the Sahara desert to the equatorial regions … it was breathtaking. And I literally cried; tears came to my eyes.

Looking from space towards the Earth, from the top of the clouds, you can see weather patterns and changes in the geography of the Earth. What you don’t see are the buildings, people or politics that distinguish one region from another. Bolden continued:

It just affected me emotionally, and it did every time I went into space. I’ve never gotten used to this, being off the planet in a unique situation that very few people have the opportunity to do.

Michael Lopez-Alegria is a veteran of three space shuttle missions and one International Space Station mission. The time spent aboard the ISS from September 18, 2006 to April 21, 2007 – 215 days – was the fifth longest spaceflight of any American. He also shared his first emotional reaction to space flight:

I think one thing that strikes me is just the launch experience. It’s absolutely amazing to be part of a launch where you catapult humans off the face of the planet into orbit, and you know if you’re an adrenaline junkie like many of us – flying jets and doing all these kinds of things – a rocket ride is absolutely amazing. It’s hard to explain … No doubts: they are shooting you from the planet … I think we are all technical minded people and we train a lot before flying so we should be ready for what the launch experience is like and we should be ready for the view from Earth. And when you get there, despite all the training and even though you know exactly how it should be, you can’t believe it. It is so otherworldly.

Earth's vast oceans are covered in a swirl of clouds, with components of the ISS visible from the side.

The International Space Station hovers above the cloud-covered oceans of Earth. Image via NASA.

The next question posed to the astronauts was whether given the chance to live the rest of their lives in space, even with simulated gravity, would they choose to go there?

The answer for Bolden was simple:

I’d be right here … No experience I’ve had replaces the incredible joy I feel looking into the eyes of my three beautiful grandchildren and telling them about people like Peggy.

Peggy Whitson, a 22-year-old NASA astronaut who holds the record for the longest stay in space for a woman (288 days aboard the ISS), also shared a familiar opinion:

My only problem is that I have to convince my husband to become an astronaut too, so he can go with him.

Rex Walheim, a 21-year-old NASA astronaut, brought another perspective to the conversation. He said:

I think what makes the space so magical is the ability to go back and forth. It will be great a day where people can live there permanently, but it’s just such a transformative experience and it really has its full meaning when you’ve been there, come back and share it with people and think again and maybe you get a chance to go back. So the further we can go back and forth, the greater the ability to have that kind of transformed experience.

Axiom – which was co-founded by Michael Suffredini and Kam Ghaffarian in 2016 – hopes to soon finalize its first commercial mission to the ISS, scheduled for late 2021, as development of a commercial module for the station continues. During a panel discussion at the International Astronautical Congress on October 13, 2020, Suffredini said his company has already lined up customers for that first mission, which involves a 10-day flight to the space station on a SpaceX Crew Dragon.

The company’s management team is made up largely of former NASA employees, including Charles Bolden.

Conclusion: an Axiom Space video roundtable, in which astronauts tell their experience starting from the Earth and living in space, as well as their opinions on the permanent human presence in space and what it would mean for humanity. A shout out to EarthSky friend Diana Hadley for recommending this video!

Source: Axiom Space Astronaut Roundtable: Outer Space, Inner World

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