From here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-379523/Astronaut-Jim-Wetherbee-answers-questions.html
When it comes to moonwalks, astronaut Jim Wetherbee takes it all in his stride – he is a veteran of six space shuttle missions after all. He joined Mail online for a question and answer session – the full transcript is here for you to read:Jane Baker, Newark, UK
: Jim when you go to sleep in space do you actually get any sleep?
Jim: Absolutely, Jane, though not as much as I get on the ground. Of course, it is very relaxing to be weightless. Since there are no pressure points, astronauts in space do not toss and turn like we do under heavy gravity. One thing I’ve always thought is strange – they give us pillows in our sleeping bags and, to keep our heads firmly on the pillow, they provide a convenient Velcro strap!
My question is, why does anyone need a pillow in space? But it turns out that some people always like to sleep on a pillow. I decided that since I spent all the time and effort to have the opportunity to sleep a floating bedroom, why confine myself to a constraining bag, which I could experience on any night in my own backyard, much closer to the ground?
So instead, I drifted to sleep while drifting. (Actually, I tied a small tether from my belt to the floor so I wouldn’t inadvertently bump into some buttons labelled, “Very Important.”) I always tried to acquire between six and seven hours of sleep each night. Or, to be correct, each eight hour period that is supposed to be our night. We worked so hard that I was usually successful, and I slept nicely on the best air mattress possible.
Rowan, London: Do you believe that the moon landings were real?
Jim: : Yes I do, Rowan. But many sceptics do not, and I feel sorry for them. They have denied themselves a wonderful experience during this greatest period in earth’s history, when humans first broke the heavy shackles of gravity.
Just think of it – in the last 4,500,000,000 years, no earthling or being (that we know of) has ever woken up, ate breakfast, and left. Not just to go around the corner, but around the solar system. It was spectacular, and I experienced it all right from the comfort of my living room while watching the inspirational views on live television.
Dan, New Jersey, US: Hi Jim. What are your thoughts on aliens? Have you ever seen anything in space that you thought was abnormal?
Jim: I have seen much in space that was abnormal, or different from what we expect on the planet. Of course, none of it was of the alien life-form variety. Here is the way I think about the question, Dan. If we were able to determine that in all the billions of possible star systems in all the billions of galaxies in our universe we are the only ones alive, that would be an incredible answer.
Space is bigger and the number of planets is larger than many people realise. If we are totally alone, we have been given a truly amazing gift that no one (or no other thing) shares – the gift of life! On the other hand, if someday in our lifetimes we are able to receive a message from another sentient civilisation somewhere in our galaxy, that also would be an astounding answer!
And I think it is possible for us to receive a signal within the next fifty years. Realise that we have only been listening for the blink of an eye on the cosmic time scale. We have had the necessary technology to listen only for the last few decades. But until recently, we have only been listening in a few frequencies in a few directions at a time. Now, with our advanced computing power, we are able to listen to millions of frequencies simultaneously in millions of different directions. And the best part is, with the Internet; we are able to share resources to analyse the data simultaneously.
So I think it is entirely possible, if there is another civilisation out there, we will hear from them in our lifetime. That will change the way humans think. For a while, anyway. (By the way, it will only be a one-way conversation. Space is so vast that the signal would have taken hundreds of thousands of years to reach our instruments, and a responding answer would take even more time in our expanding universe to arrive at the listening devices our new friends.)
Mandy, Essex, UK: Have you ever feared for your life on a mission? Do you have life insurance?
Jim: We do carry life insurance (which is very expensive) Mandy, but I can say in all my time in space I have not been afraid in a way that has adversely affected my performance. Before each flight, long before I arrived at the launch pad, the concern that I had for our safety caused me to study and prepare much more than I might have if the operations were less risky.
Fear is a good thing, if it causes one to take corrective actions. Worry is not. The difference is that worry usually causes only non-constructive thinking. Fear motivates. Each time I was lying on top of the rocket before launch, I felt supremely confident that our team had properly prepared and we were in the best possible state of readiness to perform successfully and return alive.
Any wasteful thoughts of worry were suppressed into the sub-conscious sub-routines of my brain. I knew they were there, but I did not respond to them.
Simone Pritchard, London: What is the point in going into space? What do we learn from it?
Jim: I’m happy to say the value of space exploration is more than what we learn, Simone. Of course, we do learn much. Here is how I try to explain it.
1) Technological Advancements – There are many inventions, or “spin-offs,” which have resulted from going into space. Our computing capabilities have become more powerful since we went to the moon. Wonderful products have been developed which make our lives better. But now we have those better computers, higher quality materials, and greater performing products, even if we stop going. So, although it is more challenging, I like to guess about the advances we will make in the future if we keep going into space. We will benefit from better nano-technology, super-computing, and other unforeseen discoveries to help our brains and bodies, if history repeats itself in our future.
2) Quality of Life Improvements – Our hospitals and health care systems now have greater medical advancements and initiatives as a result of developing the technology to monitor the health of the astronauts on the moon. Now doctors can remotely assess patients who are on the way to a hospital to save time and lives. After all, it is hard to argue against trying to improve life on this planet for our children.
3) Knowledge of our Environment – We are learning, and will learn more, about how to protect our environment. In addition, as we prepare to go on long trips in space, we are learning how to develop life support systems that will help the 6,000,000,000 people left behind should we suffer a natural or man-made disaster on our precious planet. But here are the best parts.
4) Inspire the Next Generation – The possibilities of going into space, or working in the space program on the ground, are inspiring our young people to study mathematics, engineering, and sciences. This is the only way for our societies to remain alive. If we lose skills in these critical areas, our way of life in these great countries will end, and other more vibrant societies will flourish and surpass us.
5) Fulfil our Destiny – Finally, I think it is our destiny as humans to explore. It is written in our genetic code. Throughout our long history, this has helped us survive and thrive as a species. I believe we are saying thanks for our precious gift of life when we fulfil our destiny by exploring, developing ourselves, and progressing to the greatest extent possible.
Amelia Denham, Winchester, UK: If you weren’t an astronaut what would you be doing, and why?
Jim: I would be helping the space community and other companies to do better, Amelia. Actually, that is what I am doing now. Over the twenty years I have worked (or played?) at NASA, and throughout my flying career, I have learned many lessons about how to operate effectively and improve productivity while preventing accidents.
In the cockpit, our job as pilots is to make the best possible decisions and minimise the consequence of errors to accomplish missions. We work together as crew members to communicate efficiently and effectively, and perform tasks as a unified and skilled team. In corporations or nations, our job is exactly the same. The board room is bigger than the cockpit, and the congressional debating halls are filled with more people, but the task is still to make effective decisions, manage risk, and accomplish goals while minimising the possibilities of human errors and accidents. I find that the lessons are the same.
There is a great market, especially in this age of information and rapid growth, for me to assist companies that are trying to survive, improve, and contribute something of value to society. But the most fulfilling aspect is that I am doing what I love. I have a passion for helping others do better by using the lessons that I have learned, which have kept me alive in the challenging environments during fast-paced situations while riding rockets in space. The psychology of decision-making and the study of human errors will keep me interested and motivated in my second career.
Elle, London: What does space food taste like?
Jim: To me, space food tastes just like earth food, Elle. Of course, it’s much more fun to eat dinner upside-down on the ceiling. Actually, some astronauts perceive differences in their senses of taste and smell in space. For some unknown reason, the absence of gravity causes some explorers to crave or despise different foods while zooming around our planet. Or they merely have changed preferences.
If they liked sharp or strong spices on the ground, they might like sweets in space. Or if the enjoy candy or desserts on the planet, they might prefer a biting sauce to spice up their taste buds. Fortunately for me, I enjoy almost all food, on or off the planet, but especially in zero gravity, where you can spill and not make a huge mess. Too fun!
Brien Allison, UK (aged 11): What is your favourite food in space? What do you miss from Earth and what is the first thing you eat when you get back?
Jim: I would have to say macaroni and cheese, or hot dogs, Brien. I don’t really eat a lot of these foods on the ground, but while on vacation from earth, I seemed to enjoy a couple of things about these selections. First of all, the macaroni adheres to the spoon very well.
You could imagine the difficulty of trying to contain peas on a fork without the assist of good old gravity, or the sticky “surface tension” that is characteristic of macaroni. Regarding hot dogs, in addition to the ease of holding and eating them, I enjoyed their salt content prior to entry day. This helped me retain fluid in preparation for re-entry back to earth. In space, astronauts can lose twenty-five percent of their blood plasma volume, just because the heart does not have to pump against gravity.
On the first day in space when more blood floats toward the head, the body automatically perceives a fluid overload, and it smartly dumps some of it overboard. This would be totally acceptable, but only until it was time to return home. We must replenish the fluid to prevent fainting in gravity, and the salt in the hot dogs helped me retain water until I needed it during re-entry. Traditionally, after landing I asked for pizza, which is one of my favourite foods on this planet and is not available on our space menu.
Anthony, London: When you first get up there, do you get any work done the first few hours/days or do you just look out of the window?
Jim: Although it is extremely tempting to float and look out the window at the unbelievably beautiful sights, there is time to do that later in the mission. I have always encouraged my crews to stay focused on putting the vehicle, including hardware and software, in a good configuration right after the tremendous strain of accelerating 240,000 pounds (90,000 kilograms) to an orbital velocity of 17,000 miles per hour!
I do encourage my crews to look out the window and try to memorise the sights for their own benefit later and for their recall when they try to explain what it looks like to earth-bound humans after returning. There are many amazing sights, but the one I will always remember, which is burned permanently into my neurons, was the sight of the moon from 200 miles above our planet. It looked so brilliant, big, and clear, when viewed against the deep blackness of space above the light-attenuating and clarity-reducing effects of our atmosphere, that I will never forget it.
Thinking back on it, I realise that this awesome view sticks with me, not only because the moon has always fascinated me since I was a child, but mostly because this was the only thing the experienced astronauts didn’t tell me about before my rookie flight. So when I became a commander, I decided to not tell my first-time fliers what they would see. I did explain the technical aspects of the mission, but I really enjoyed seeing their eyes grow and mouths drop wide open when they experienced the unbelievable and unanticipated sights during their first trip into space.
Linda, Stockton, UK: Did space strengthen or weaken your belief in a god?
Jim: I am happy to report that it did neither, Linda. It is true that seeing the things I saw tremendously astounded me! The universe is so beautiful it defies logic to think it simply exists on its own. The number of stars stagers the imagination.
To see the Large Magellanic Cloud so clearly, with out the aid of optical devices, and to think that the light from this sub-galaxy neighbouring ours left 160,000 years ago, to enter my tiny retinas, staggers the optical and cognitive processes of my mind.
To see the night-time side of our world’s upper atmosphere glowing from Joule heating (electrons rising to a higher orbit, then dropping to a lower energy state thus giving off one photon each), with no illuminating moonlight and thousands of miles from any man-made light, convinces me that the universe is a wondrously elegant, complex, ingenious, and breathtaking place.
But I can see similar things; right here on the good old earth that convince me about a greater purpose as well. To think about how a water molecule is drawn up from the ground, through the roots of a tree, up the trunk and out the branches to a leaf, and is combined chemically with the solar energy that radiated from a celestial body 100,000 times more massive than the earth and 93,000,000 miles away, to sustain the life of the leaf and nourish the tree – also blows my mind!
The conclusion that I have come to, with or without seeing the glory of all around us from the vantage of space, is that we humans have been given the priceless and divine gift of life in this amazingly beautiful universe.
Joanne, Ely, UK: Can you actually see the Great Wall of China from space or not?
You can, but only if you know was to look and you use visual enhancement, like binoculars, Joanne. The trouble is that the Great Wall was built using material from the surrounding environment, so it is fairly well camouflaged. It is also short and narrow, albeit very long. It is too small for me to see from 200 miles away with unaided eyes. There is no possibility of seeing it or any other man-made object from the moon.
This was the erroneous rumour that was spread around the globe and believed by some of the 6,000,000,000 minus 25 people who didn’t have the honour of leaving our earth to orbit around or walk on the moon.
But you can see many man-made things from earth orbit. The best building to see is the very large Vertical Assembly Building (160 meters tall) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the space vehicles are processed. Travellers in orbit can easily see runways, cities, and some roads, especially long straight ones, where swaths of trees have been cut away, making it possible to be distinguished from the surrounding vegetation. Usually things that are very straight don’t exist in nature, so they stand out.
Central Park in New York can be seen easily. London can be seen, but only if it is not cloudy. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Strangely, in the two places that have the greatest amounts of humans, India and China, it is difficult to find evidence of human life. I think that’s because many of the citizens live in small villages in unfarmed areas or with camouflaging vegetation. You can see boats on the oceans, and planes in the atmosphere, because they leave long straight trails in the form of wakes or contrails.
I once saw a meteor blazing a trail below us. That was a pretty sobering sight. If any other civilisations ever visit us (which is not likely, due to the vast distances in the cosmos), they will be able to see or otherwise sense the presence of human life long before they arrive from space.
Melissa, Herfordshire, UK: An obscene amount of money has been spent on the space race in recent years. Do you think this is justified and why?
Jim: It turns out, Melissa, that the amount is not as obscene as many people think. In the US, which spends more in space than any other nation, our space budget is about $15,000,000,000 per year. Notice that I have added the trailing zeros, so we can honestly and objectively appreciate how big the number really is. But think of it in the following other ways, also. This is less than two thirds of one percent of our nation’s budget.
By comparison we spend nineteen per cent, or thirty times this amount, on the defence of our nation. We spend twelve times more in movie tickets every year. On average, each consumer in America spends more than six times the amount on fast food than he or she is asked to spend in tax dollars for space technology each year. As a nation, our citizens spend twice as much on pizza alone than we do in space.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that we give up on defence, movies, or pizza. But we should at least get something for our investments other than full stomachs and great stories at the cinema. Also, it is important to remember that the dollars don’t just get burned up in the exhaust pipes of the rockets during lift-off.
Not a single cent is actually spent in space. The money is given to people on the ground, and it goes into the wallets of these honourable workers in the various space programs, in companies around the country (and the world), who then spend their salaries in their local communities at the gas stations and grocery stores owned by other citizens in our great society.
But here is the best part for our future. Fortunately, for every dollar invested in space, it is estimated that seven times that amount is returned in the form of better technology and products that we develop because we go into space. This might be the best investment available.
So I think we should spend money – on the ground AND in space – to solve earth-bound problems and improve life for our next generation, and for all those who love living right here on the third planet in our solar system. We should try to leave our world in a better condition than it was when we arrived.
I can think of no better or noble way to do that than to come together as nations, invest in space technology, and inspire our youth by exploring space. Finally, I must commend all 2,300 of the young students who I met in the UK at the beginning of March 2006. I was impressed with their dedication in the pursuit of their studies, and their optimistic outlook for humanity’s future in space. Rather than giving them inspiration, they inspired me.
Thank all of you on the best planet around.
Jim is supporting ‘Edge into Space’ – a hands-on science competition open to 13 – 17 year olds across the UK. The prize is the best school prize ever. Up to 48 children will travel to space camp in Houston and Florida to live and work with astronauts and rocket scientists for 10 days.
Encourage your children to enter and remember to hurry as entry to the competition closes on 19th
March 2006! Further information can be found at http://www.edgeintospace.com.
From here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-379523/Astronaut-Jim-Wetherbee-answers-questions.html