I recently had an out of this world experience and I just have to share it with you. For the first time ever, I interviewed an astronaut live from space as he lives and works on the International Space Station. Terry Virts is the Commander of Expedition 43. The Maryland native has been in space for 4 months and he is scheduled to return in May 2015. My colleague Tom and I spoke with Virts for 10 minutes and it was, truly, an incredible experience.
Mr. Virts gave us a glimpse of daily life for the astronauts and the topics discussed at the International Space Station. He said, " I'm here with Italian Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and Russian Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov. We are very good friends and we try to have dinner and lunch together as often as we can. Topics range from what are we going to do when we get back to Earth, to how did your day go that day. I'm trying to explain baseball and football to them so there are all different kinds of topics as you can imagine."
The crew is doing intense research -- "Just about every discipline from science is covered here. We are doing Biology, Human Research, we are doing Physics experiments. There's something on the outside called an Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer that's looking for dark matter and dark energy in the universe and that's a really fascinating experiment. We are doing Material Science, things that can help produce better materials on Earth and also better spaceships. There's one in particular that I worked on that's going to help make spaceship fuel tanks more efficient so we can get every drop of fuel out of them. So, basically every different Scientific discipline, we've done here. It's been fun. The thing I am most proud about is the diversity of Science that we have done".
He recently went on a space walk and when asked about what he saw from his perspective, Mr. Virts said, "The view from in board the Space Station is unbelievable! We have several different windows and there's one in particular called a cupola that has 7 windows that you are surrounded by. The view from there is unbelievable, so I didn't think it could get better than that. But when I went outside and you are out in space and all you have is that thin visor between you, the universe and all of creation, it is truly amazing. The colors that I saw are colors I have never seen before, especially shades of blue. The sunrise and sunsets tend to last a long time because the orbit that we are in is kind of paralleling the direction of the sun, so it was a little bit of thin blue for a long time during our night passes and seeing those sunrises and sunsets were just remarkable".
Of course, it is not easy to live and work in space. Exercise and a strict diet is vital. Terry says, " We spend several hours everyday during aerobic and anaerobic exercises, basically weightlifting. There's no weight in space, but we use a vacuum system that acts as a spring to generate weight. It's very important to keep our bodies in shape. If you spend a lot of time in weightlessness, your muscles and bones would atrophy. So through some diet, we take Vitamin D pills, but mainly the exercise that we do, we have learned after having 15 years of people coming to the space station that when we get back to earth we are in good shape, a little dizzy the first few days, but your body is very strong and able to spend time in space and get back to the Earth. So, it's a great accomplishment of the Space Station. It has proved that humans can live in space and then go to a planet and not only survive, but actually thrive and work and do well".
As for the food, Mr. Virts admits it is actually tasty. He says, "It is much better than what I would cook if I were a bachelor. The diversity of food is pretty good. There's all different kinds of meat. We have vegetables, potatoes, pasta, desserts, fruits, nuts, so it's a pretty good variety of food and if you are here for six months that's really important so you are not eating the same thing every day".
It seems like an awesome journey, right? It is, but there's a lot of precise work to be done. He says, "The hardest part about being here is that every day, all day long you are doing very sometimes tedious procedures. They are long procedures. You have to make sure you are doing the right switch or right button constantly because you don't want to break anything. Of course, we are human and we make mistakes and yes, I have pushed the wrong button. Thankfully nothing bad has happened and the mistakes that I made have all been easily recovered. That's something you really have to pay attention to when you are up here for such a long period of time. "
If you follow Mr. Virts on Twitter, you will see that he tweets the most unbelievable views of the Earth. It is just fascinating. So, I asked him what he thinks when he snaps a picture of his home state of Maryland. He says, "It's really cool for a lack of a better word to see your home from space. It is very recognizable, especially the Chesapeake Bay. You can pick that out from hundreds of miles away. Maryland is a beautiful state The whole Earth is a beautiful Earth. There's lot of different colors and aspects of all these different regions on the Earth and now I recognize places on Earth by color from what I have seen in space."
I am in awe, as Mr. Virts is writing history as we speak. Stay tuned. Next week, I will write about the actual process and logistics of interviewing somebody from space. There was a lot of coordination and communication between our television station, Mission Control in Houston and The International Space Station. Also, you can follow Terry on Twitter.
Due to time constraints on television, we could not air all of the interview with Terry, but you can watch part of it here.