Q&A: NASA Astronaut Chris Cassidy Talks About Life In Space Aboard The ISS, A Week After Returning To Earth

 @CharlieAllDayc.poladian@ibtimes.com
on September 20 2013 10:57 AM
Chris Cassidy
NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy just returned to Earth after spending five months aboard the International Space Station. NASA

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy returned to Earth after spending five months aboard the International Space Station. Cassidy returned on Sept. 11 and after getting used to gravity has settled in to a normal routine, telling International Business Times he just started driving on Sept. 19.

Cassidy was a decorated Navy SEAL, earning two Bronze Stars for his service in Afghanistan, prior to joining NASA in 2004. In his 10 years as a SEAL, Cassidy had two six-month deployments to Afghanistan, his first being just two weeks after the September 11 attacks. As a NASA astronaut, Cassidy was part of the STS-127 mission on the space shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station in 2009. On March 28, 2013, Cassidy joined the ISS as part of Expeditions 35/36 and would spend months in space serving as flight engineer.

Cassidy’s time aboard the ISS was full of firsts. His arrival was the first expedited trip, taking just six hours to orbit and dock instead of the standard two days and Cassidy performed an unplanned spacewalk with NASA astronaut Tom Mashburn. In the five months aboard the ISS, Cassidy worked on hundreds of experiments, performed three spacewalks, orbited the Earth 2,656 times and logged 70 million miles.

While there is plenty of work to do aboard the ISS, during the interview with IBT, Cassidy was excited about being an astronaut saying, “Every day is unique.” Every day is a unique day. He said his previous training as a SEAL or the training he received at NASA did not necessarily prepare him for anything but was eager to try new things, such as the unplanned spacewalk.

In the interview with IBT, Cassidy discusses his life aboard the ISS, sharing the space with other astronauts, going viral and more.

Have you been able to spend time with your family?

I landed Wednesday morning Russia time a week ago, in Kazakhstan and then Wednesday night, Houston time, I was back here in Houston and I saw my family at Ellington Airport, which is right here in the backyard of the space center. I spent that first night in a crew quarters facility having a bunch of medical exams but ever since then I’ve been sleeping at home.

Can you describe what happened during the cancelled spacewalk?

We had two spacewalks planned in July and the first one went fine although he, at the very end, Luca did notice some water in his helmet. When we took his helmet off we did see some water in there but we all thought it was because his drink bag had leaked. A week later we did the next spacewalk and it wasn’t very long into it, 45 minutes to an hour, into that spacewalk he felt the same sensation of water in the back of his helmet and when I got over there and look in I see it’s not a normal level of water, it wasn’t a drink bag or something, and it was getting bigger.

Once the ground realized that as well we made our way back pretty quickly to the airlock and got him back inside so we can get him helmet off. It’s not an instant thing to get re-pressurized, it takes a little bit of time to close the hatch and open the valves and get the air flowing again. It takes half an hour or so to do all of that.

Did this ever happen to you?

It’s never happened to anybody, it’s a first-time occurrence. We have what we call a “cuff checklist,” basically a checklist of emergency procedures that we wear on our wrists with the actions you need to take in different situations. His type of problem wasn’t even on that list, it wasn’t something folks thought was really kind of possible and it happened and it just goes to show you that, no matter how much thought you put into problem solving there’s always some tricky little thing out there that can come out to get you that you haven’t thought of before.

What is life like aboard the ISS?

ISS you think of it as a small tin can but there are plenty of places where you can go and escape or you could just be working in a certain area, not even intending to escape, and you don’t see people for a whole half-a-day or something. So that wasn’t really so much of a problem. The hardest thing, I think, is a cumulative fatigue when you are in a setting where you are worried about schedules or worried about not making mistakes and you’re worried about coordinating your activities with your crew mates, so you’re not interfering with them and vice versa, it eventually gets a little tiring mentally.

I definitely noticed that there was somewhat of a long-term fatigue and each week and I enjoyed sleeping in on Sunday in order to get more rested because during the week, I did notice that I get kind of tired at the end of the week.

Who did you spend time with when you were aboard the ISS?

Just by the general layout the U.S. astronauts hang out on our side and the Russian cosmonauts hang out on their side more just because of the food. Their food is located in their end and our food is located in our end and our sleeping quarters are on the US side, and our toilet, so all of our daily use items are on the U.S. side of the space station. So I would spend all my time with Karen (Nyberg) and Luca, and in the beginning of my time with Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn, and maybe once or twice a week we would get together for a big group dinner with the Russian crewmates but very often we would just grab a coffee and go talk to them socially.

Was there a de-facto chef among the astronauts?

Fortunately for us, all of the food is prepared already and in bags and the skill level of a chef in space is really ‘add water.’ At first we tried making food for each other but we quickly realized that food is something that really is a fun aspect of life in space, kind of like when you go camping it is fun to sit around the campfire and eat and it is fun for each person to pick out their own stuff. So we generally didn’t make each other’s food or prepare it for them, everybody would grab their own food and eat what they wanted to, so each person was their own chef.

Videos from Chris Hadfield, and now NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, have become huge hits. What was it like working with Hadfield and filming these videos aboard the ISS?

Chris Hadfield is such a talented guy, and one of the nicer guys you’ll ever meet as well. So it was really fun to watch him think of ideas for videos and songs and see him record those and watch it happen onboard and then, several weeks later, hear about how that particular thing was an international hit. To us, it was just our crew mate making a video and it was kind of fun to watch.

Now, with Karen’s hair, everybody likes to relate to things on Earth. We all have hair, well most people have hair, Luca doesn’t, and I didn’t for one period of time when I shaved mine to match Luca’s head, but we would tease Karen about her hair and it getting into the air filters, it was fun to be up there with her and joke around.

What was the best experience aboard the ISS?

I would say, it probably relates to food. There was one day when the ground decided they needed to throw away a bunch of food and coffee and we had some food we didn’t like, bags of food that had accumulated that we didn’t want to eat. So we had the opportunity to dive in and pick our most favorite food, just bags of it, and trade it for stuff we weren’t going to eat and that felt like, imagine walking into a grocery store and someone saying ‘Pick whatever you want, doesn’t matter what it costs, just put it on the conveyor belt and enjoy it.’ That was one of my favorite days I had in space.

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