Once assigned a flight into space, it takes about a year before it actually happens. According to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Astronaut John O. Creighton, who has taken three flights into space since he became an astronaut in 1979, “The year goes by quickly.” One of Creighton’s flights was to examine why the ozone layer deteriorating.
Originally from Seattle, Washington, Creighton, a graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., is a retired astronaut entertaining a crowd of ticket holders at the enlightening and entertaining Kennedy Space Center in Florida, located on a wildlife refuge an hour’s drive from Melbourne Beach or Orlando.
“Lunch with an Astronaut” isn’t about joining Creighton for freeze-dried menu items. It’s a buffet of function foods such as salads and bread rolls, chicken or beef entrees and sides, plus a few scrumptious desserts.
The essence of “Lunch with an Astronaut” is the presentation given by a former astronaut willing to share the experience of preparing and heading into space. And there’s a lot of commitment that goes into the preparation.
Before you go, and following the year of preparation, Creighton says there is a 28-36 hour simulated flight, and one week before, it’s quarantine time. Three days before, a flight to Houston is in order to separate from home distractions, such as a bon voyage party that might seem fitting, but isn't. Being away minimizes the people that come in contact with a ready-to-go astronaut, and that means no germs.
One might think a restless night of sleep would be in store the night before a flight, but Creighton explains, “After the ordeal of the preparation, I slept fine the night before takeoff.”
While a crowd decidedly enjoys a full lunch menu, Creighton explains why he doesn't indulge in a “last supper” of his favorites: “The night before, I’m in an orange suit that has to stay on for seven or eight hours, so you don’t want to pee.”
The crowd laughs at his candid humor about an issue many of us wouldn't want to test out. So, after the 7-mile drive to launch, the astronauts get together with a deck of cards --- and play for 10 minutes before they bow their heads in prayer: “God help us if we screw this up.”
Once helmets are in place and the countdown begins, all you hear is the breathing of your colleagues, says Creighton. Once the countdown gets to 8, then you hear only the engine and feel a tremendous vibration before you’re on your way.
“There’s no doubt that a significant event just occurred in your lifetime,” he says in response to the actual takeoff. “It’s an impressive ride, indeed.”
Once en route, he says the solids burn so it’s hard to read the numbers on the equipment. After eight minutes the engines burn, then shut down. A tumbling sensation begins with your body pitching forward. You’re in orbit, and it’s time to get out of that space suit and into something comfortable. This is the time of weightlessness and what Creighton refers to as his moment as the “world’s greatest gymnast.”
It’s easy to get around, he explains, but eating becomes challenging. Dehydrated food and M&Ms float by regularly.
Once the mission is complete, it’s time to go home, using the engines for a short time (at 3,000 degrees, it’s a fireball as the rocket plunges to Earth. One hour from orbit, the burn takes place over Australia before heading home via Mock 1 speed of sound. To add perspective, the final plunge on the runway is six times steeper than a flight on American Airlines.
Creighton, 70 years old this year, says that while he was in space he didn't experience any religious revelation, but he did attain a global perspective of the world. During his lifetime, he’s been awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, 10 air Medals, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, the NASA Distinguished Service & Leadership Medal, 3 United States Space Flight Medals, the French Legion of Honor and the Saudi Arabia King Fahd Medal.
Descriptions of his three flights are as follows, as listed on Creighton’s bio:
#1 - The STS-51G Discovery (June 17-24, 1985) in a 7-day mission during which the crew deployed communications satellites for Mexico (Morelos), the Arab League (Arabsat) and the United States (AT&T Telstar). They used the Remote Manipulator System (RMS) to deploy and later retrieve the SPARTAN satellite which performed 17 hours of x-ray astronomy experiments while separated from the Space Shuttle. In addition, the crew activated the Automated Directional Solidification Furnace (ADSF), six Getaway Specials, participated in biomedical experiments, and conducted a laser tracking experiment as part of the Strategic Defense Initiative. Mission duration was 112 earth orbits in 169 hours and 39 minutes.
#2 - STS-36 Atlantis (Feb. 28 to March 4, 1990) carried Department of Defense payloads and a number of secondary payloads. Mission duration was 72 earth orbits in 106 hours, 19 minutes, 43 seconds.
#3 - STS-48 Discovery (Sept. 12-18, 1991) was a 5-day mission during which the crew deployed the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) which is designed to provide scientists with their first complete data set on the upper atmosphere's chemistry, winds and energy inputs. The crew also conducted numerous secondary experiments ranging from growing protein crystals, to studying how fluids and structures react in weightlessness. Mission duration was 81 earth orbits in 128 hours, 27 minutes, 34 seconds.
Following a successful fight in space, each astronaut adds their signature to a wine bottle that may someday be worth the cost of a flight in space.
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