Astronaut: Future of space program is bright
Aboard the International Space Station for two missions, NASA Astronaut Mike Foreman has orbited the Earth 421 times.
Foreman, 56, flew aboard Endeavour STS-123 in March 2008 and Atlantis STS-129 in November 2009.
Foreman visited Everett on June 14 and Mukilteo on June 15 to share stories and “home video” of his experiences aboard the space station with the South Everett-Mukilteo Rotary Club and again at the Future of Flight Aviation Center.
He has logged more than 637 hours in space, including 32 hours and 19 minutes during five spacewalks.
“All together, that’s 26 days in space,” said Martin Cross, who introduced Foreman at the Rotary Club presentation. “What he helped to accomplish in those missions is quite amazing.”
The International Space Station is an orbiting laboratory that launched Oct. 31, 2000. The station is about the size of a football field, and weighs nearly 1 million pounds.
A total of 15 countries are ISS partners and represented in space: United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and 11 countries in Europe.
“The greatest thing that humans have ever achieved, I think, is building the International Space Station,” Foreman said. “It’s a great international laboratory.”
The United States flew a total of 135 missions on five shuttle orbiters – Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour – for the duration of the Space Shuttle Program, which ended July 21, 2011.
Foreman’s space flights involved conducting experiments, building the station and then installing replacement parts for after the shuttle program ended.
Each mission starts with a thunderous liftoff as the shuttle's twin solid rocket boosters ignite, pushing the vehicle with its crew and cargo beyond the bounds of gravity and into space.
“It’s a very wild ride,” Foreman said. “When those solid rocket boosters would light off, you knew you were going somewhere – you just hoped it wasn’t Disney World.”
It takes about 8.5 minutes for the shuttle to get into space. The shuttle then matches its orbit and catches up with the ISS, which orbits at an altitude of 220 miles above Earth and at a speed of 17,500 mph. It orbits the Earth every 90 minutes.
“You don’t really have a sense of altitude,” he said. “You don’t even have a sense of speed. You’re traveling faster than a bullet coming out of a gun up there, but you don’t really sense that.”
Once in orbit, the astronauts turn the shuttle into a spaceship for the daylong flight to the ISS.
“It starts out like a bright star, and as we get closer and closer, it gets bigger and bigger, and by the time you get up next to it, it’s just huge,” Foreman said. “It’s like the Death Star compared to the space shuttle.”
His first space flight was STS-123, completed in 15 days, in which the crew installed the Canadian robot hand Dextre and part of the Japanese Kibo laboratory module.
While at the station, Foreman performed three spacewalks for a total of 19 hours and 34 minutes.
“We call these space walks, but at the International Space Station you don’t use your legs during space walks – it’s all climbing hand over hand,” he said. “It’s like a big monkey bar set that you play on for about six or seven hours.”
The mission also delivered NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman to the station and returned European Space Agency astronaut Léopold Eyharts to Earth.
His second mission was STS-129, completed in 11 days, in which the crew installed spare parts for systems that provide power to the station, keep it from overheating and maintain its orientation in space.
During that mission, Foreman performed two spacewalks for a total of 12 hours and 45 minutes.
“It sure is neat being out there and looking down at the Earth, seeing the Earth go around,” he said. “[One time] I looked down and I saw mountains, and it was the Himalayas. It was a gorgeous view from up there.”
The crew also brought back NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, who had served three months aboard the space station.
The shuttle lands after an hour-long descent through Earth's atmosphere onto a 3-mile-long runway at Kennedy. A drag sheet helps to slow it down to 60 mph.
Foreman, of Ohio, was selected as an astronaut in 1998 and flew his first mission 10 years later. He knew he wanted to be an astronaut since he was 8 or 9 years old. He applied to NASA eight times before he got the job. He was a test pilot for the U.S. Navy before that.
“I thought, ‘Wow, the epitome would be if I could become an astronaut and get to do a space walk,’” he said.
Although the shuttle program has ended, Foreman said NASA still has a bright space program.
NASA astronauts still go to the ISS – launched in Russian-built rockets – and engineers are working to build a better U.S. rocket so that it can once again fly its own astronauts to the space station. The space shuttle program was phased out after NASA lost Columbia in 2003.
Some astronauts are also training right now for future deep-space missions to an asteroid or all the way to Mars.
“We’ll get there eventually,” Foreman said of a mission to Mars. “It’s just a matter of time and funding. I hope it’s in my lifetime.”