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Physics & Astronomy

Meeting Astronaut Clayton Anderson

Tuesday, April 5

For three members of the Carthage Microgravity Team, Tuesday was amazing because they flew aboard G-Force One. But the entire team had the opportunity to meet NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson, a highlight of the 10-day trip in Houston.

Anderson has logged 167 days in space, and spent five months living and working on the International Space Station. On Tuesday, April 5, he spoke to a full room at Ellington Field, telling students in NASA’s Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program what it’s like to do a spacewalk, live in zero gravity, and get re-accustomed to living on Earth.

His first spacewalk
Anderson launched to the ISS on June 8, 2007, aboard the shuttle Atlantis. He docked with ISS on flight day 3 and assumed the role of flight engineer and science officer for the Expedition. During his 152-day tour of duty, he performed three spacewalks, or EVAs (extravehicular activity), totaling 18 hours, 1 minute, floating in space.

“How’d I feel that day? I was a little nervous,” he told the students, “but they kind of train the fear out of you. And when I opened that hatch, I knew that’s where I was supposed to be. I knew that this was what my destiny was: To be the guy going out that day.

“We were out there for seven hours and 41 minutes my very first time,” he continued. “Usually it’s five hours and 30 minutes, or six hours. Here I was tromping around the top of the space station in the dark, seven hours into an EVA, telling myself, ‘Don’t screw up now, don’t screw up now. You’ve gotta finish, you’ve gotta finish.’ It was pretty overwhelming.”

The biggest rush came when the spacewalk was complete and he went back inside the station, he said. “I had completed it successfully, I knew we’d done well, and then — whew. I felt like I had just won the NCAA basketball championship with the winning shot from 50 feet with no time on the clock. You couldn’t have brought me down for two days.”

Tremendous experience
While aboard the ISS, Anderson also operated the Robotic Manipulator Canadarm2 and jettisoned two pieces of space hardware, including the Early Ammonia Servicer, weighing in at more than 1,400 pounds. He returned to Earth aboard the shuttle Discovery, landing at Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 7, 2007.

Last year, Anderson and crew members executed a resupply mission to the ISS. They launched from Kennedy Space Center on April 5, 2010, in the shuttle Discovery. They crew dropped off more than 27,000 pounds of hardware, supplies and equipment, including new crew sleeping quarters. During this tour of duty, Anderson performed three more spacewalks, logging 20 hours and 17 minutes of extravehicular activity. The crew returned to Earth on April 20, 2010.

The mission was accomplished in 15 days, 2 hours, 47 minutes and 10 seconds, and traveled 6,232,235 miles over 238 orbits.

“I had a great time,” Anderson said. “Those are tremendous people over there, as good as they come.”

While he doesn’t have plans to fly again — “The tax to fly is heavy for a guy with two kids and a wife” — he continues to work for NASA doing outreach and support. “I do things like this [talking to student groups]. I help the astronaut crews that are on board the space station if they have a problem. But we’ll see. Who knows? If commercial vehicles come alive and do what they say they can do, maybe they’ll want an ex-has-been astronaut spacewalker from Nebraska,” he laughed. 

Perseverance and persistence
Born in Omaha, Neb., in 1959, Anderson has been with NASA since 1981. But he didn’t join the astronaut program until 1998, after he applied 15 times. “I guess I have the record, apparently: 15 tries,” he said. “I’m proud of this. Perseverance, persistence. Don’t ever quit, man, don’t ever quit. No matter what you choose to do, don’t ever quit.”

Several students asked Anderson about commercial space flight and the nearing end of the space shuttle program.

“Folks in the commercial world are supposed to be building new rockets. They’re supposed to be designing and building a rocket to carry crew to the space station. They’re also supposed to be designing and building a huge, big honking rocket to carry the stuff that the shuttle used to carry,” Anderson said. “How long that’s going to take? I don’t know. … I’ve been here a long time, since 1981. I’ve watched a bunch of programs start, I’ve watched a bunch of programs get canceled, I’ve watched a bunch of programs get budgets cut, and I’ve seen what the results are. I hope they can do it, but I’m not going to hold my breath.”

When asked what he thinks NASA should focus on, if money and politics weren’t part of the equation, Anderson replied, “I would still go to the moon.” They’re not ready for the six- to nine-month trip to Mars, he said. “I think we’re better off coming back to the moon, building that Mars base and learning to live, learning to walk around, and seeing what we can do with the flora and the fauna on the local rock that’s only three days away.” Propulsion is the biggest problem in traveling to Mars. “All you guys need to figure out how to get us there faster,” he told the students.

“You guys are the future,” he continued. “I know you hear that stuff all the time, but you need to take it to heart. You are the future of the space program. So if you like what’s happening here, if you like what you see out here, if you like the engagement you’re getting when you go on this ‘Vomit Comet’ and puke your brains out and have a great time — if you like that stuff, you need to tell people about it. Because if only 10 people at the University of Nebraska know about it, that’s not as good as 110 people knowing about it. …

“The American space program is at a radically critical juncture. If we’re not careful, we could really punt this out of bounds.”

NASA Astronaut Clayton Anderson goes to give Carthage student Steve Mathe a fist bump after hearing that Steve '13, is the only male on the Carthage Microgravity Team.NASA Astronaut Clayton Anderson goes to give Carthage student Steve Mathe a fist bump after hearing that Steve '13, is the only male on the Carthage Microgravity Team.
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