I have to admit, I never gave a second thought to the life of an astronaut until last year, when my adult son totally amazed me with the news, he had completed the application process to become a NASA astronaut! Although he is an adventurous physician who works as an Emergency Room Doctor, and has a Master's Degree in Electrical Engineering, and has a long history of rock-climbing (including publishing a book on the topic), I had never known of him expressing an interest in space travel.
The knowledge that my son had gone to the trouble to complete the application process, sparked my interest in visiting the NASA Space and Rocket Center, in Huntsville, Alabama ( www.rocketcenter.com ). That is where I photographed this exhibit showing the layering of the astronaut's space suit. I had a tiny inkling of how uncomfortable this attire would be, as a result of taking the underwater scuba training course to be a certified "Dry Suit Diver". One needs to be measured and custom fit for such a suit---whether you will be wearing it underwater or in outer space! After you have ON a cumbersome suit like a space suit or dry suit, then you need hours and hours of training, just to learn how to go about your normal activities, wearing such a "garment"!
In a popular television sitcom, there is an engineer who has the distinction of being the "problem-solver" who designs a properly-working space toilet for the International Space Station. And as it turns out, there really is an "Orbital Outhouse Team", and this logo is painted above the space toilet they developed.
This replica space toilet is on display at one of the exhibits in Huntsville It does not use water, so the astronaut must first fasten them self to the toilet seat, which has spring loaded restraining bars, to get a good seal. After "the business" is done, a lever is pushed that activates a powerful fan and a suction hole opens up, causing the airstream to carry the waste away. Although urine is recycled on the space station, human waste is not. It is compressed and stored for disposal. (I figured my son would at least be familiar with this aspect of bodily functions, as he told me as a rock-climber spending several days on an ascent of El Cap in Yosemite National Park, he had to save his excrement for the duration of the climb, and descent. Yuk!)
In addition to a model of the International Space Station that visitors can walk through, they can also view the Apollo capsule, as well as the recovery parachute that hangs above it. Imagine if it were your son that you were eagerly awaiting to emerge from that strange-looking contraption, as he returned from orbiting the earth!
This "photo prop" allows guests to get behind the clear glass domes, and have a picture to commemorate their visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. If you, or someone you know, is actually interested in becoming a NASA astronaut, they need to go to the website, www.nasa.gov , to read about the application process. That is what I did after I found out my son had applied, because I wanted to educate myself on the whole process. To my astonishment, I read that THERE WAS NO AGE LIMIT for applicants! Even an old lady like me could apply! I briefly scanned the application process, considering applying, just to try to "keep up" with my son. However, as soon as I saw what a daunting task it was to get all the records, resumes, and transcripts submitted, I quickly abandoned those ideas!
However, even if you have no interest in actually becoming an astronaut, I would high recommend a visit to the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, which is a part of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, in Huntsville, Alabama. During the 1960's, Wernher von Braun was instrumental in the development of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and was the first director of the Marshall Space Flight Center. Over the course of his leadership, the Saturn V rockets he developed enabled six teams of astronauts to reach the moon.
The Davidson Center allows ordinary "earth tourists" to feel what it would be like to be a "space tourist"!
This astronaut trainer simulator will literally "rock you" in every direction possible! Since I get motion sickness from a porch swing, this is one opportunity I did not take advantage of!
If you are a rock collector, how would you like to have an actual "moon rock" in your collection! I often bring a small rock back from my travels, and write on it where I found it. However, this PHOTO of the moon rock , which is on display in Huntsville, is the only "souvenir rock" I have from the space center
Many of the tasks that need to be accomplished on board the ISS are repetitive, and have been assigned to an actual "robot helper" on board. Who knew??!! One activity the robot cannot assist with, however, is exercise. Each astronaut MUST do their obligatory exercise on the ISS, perhaps on the treadmill or stationary bicycle. This is because the human body loses muscle and bone in weightlessness. Thanks to early medical evaluations done on the first mammals and humans put into space, this information was the impetus for the medical profession realizing that exercise was a necessary component for the treatment of osteoporosis.
In addition to the name "Wernher von Braun" being synonymous with the Rocket Center Museum, his name is also on the Huntsville, Alabama Convention Center. This photo shows me and my "astronaut buddy", as I attended a travel conference at the convention center. For information on event at the Von Braun Center, as well as general visitor information about the area, click on www.huntsville.org .
It was Wernher von Braun who developed the idea of a "Space Camp" that would train youngsters in field of science and space technologies, as well as help their mental development, the same way sports camps aim at improving physical development. These teenagers were observed in their dining room, as I toured the facilities. Fortunately, the food the astronauts are issued on board the ISS has progressed from the totally freeze-dried menus of the early days. The food still has to be somehow confined, or else it would "wander off" and cause safety hazards of all sorts. The NASA nutrition team has learned that prolonged microgravity dulls the taste buds, so spicy foods are a frequent menu item on board the ISS.
The book cover shown in this photo references Wernher von Braun, so as a reminder to those readers who were born after his death, he was an aerospace engineer and space architect, credited with inventing the V-2 rocket for Germany, and the Saturn V rocket for the USA. After World War II, he was moved from Germany to the US, along with 1500 other scientists , engineers, and technicians, in "Operation Paperclip". They developed rockets that launched the first US space satellite, Explorer 1, and the Apollo program manned lunar landing. His group later became NASA (National Aeronautic and Space Administration).
The actual desk that Wernher von Braun used, as well as a replica of his office, is on display at the museum in Huntsville. I find it interesting to note that he converted to evangelical Christianity at Fort Bliss, Texas in 1946. Afterwards, he spoke and wrote about the complementary aspects of science and religion, the afterlife of the soul, and his belief in God. He is quoted as saying, "The farther we probe into space, the greater my faith." In fact, he has the scripture reference on his gravestone of Psalm 19:1 . That is the verse that says, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork." (Knowing that such a famous scientist put a scripture reference on his memorial stone, made me feel better about the fact that I included a scripture reference on my memorial stone as well: It says "a TURNER to Matthew 6:33" My son told me he was amused that I included a pun on my permanent marker---but it is the story of my life!)
I referenced Matthew 6:33, because it is the foundational verse for a healthy living program I am involved in, called First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ). One of the components of healthy living is keeping one's mind healthy, which we try to do by scripture memorization. The verse I am currently working on memorizing is from Matthew 25:23 which reads, His master replied, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness." I took this photo of a newspaper clipping at the museum that shows how Werhner von Braun praised all the workers involved in the space project. Before I went to Huntsville, one of my friends here at home, told me she used to live and work in Huntsville, Alabama, in the space/rocket industry during the tenure of Wernher von Braun. She says she has a framed certificate, signed by him, in recognition of her work there. Based on her comments about how much that certificate of recognition meant to her, and how this article illustrates that Dr. Werhner von Braun could see the value in praising a job well done, it makes me want to focus on the importance of hearing those words spoken by our Heavenly Father, when our days on this earth have ended. Now that is a greeting that will give me "MILES OF SMILES"! Tricia
Author's Addendum: A while after I published this article, my son sent me this "selfie" he took at a NASA facility in California. Even though he was not chosen for the 2017 NASA Astronaut Team, he can have the satisfaction that he took the time to complete the application process! YEA SON!!