Monday, October 4, 2010

NASA JSC - Clayton Anderson, friend from Out of This World

It is almost impossible to say who is my favorite Astronaut. You could go by who has the best record. So it could be Yuri Gagarin, the very first man in Space,  John Glenn the first American in Space and then 36 years later to be the oldest person in Space, Neil Armstrong for setting down his foot as the first human on the moon, or maybe Jerry Ross, who visited Space 7 times and did 9 spacewalks. 

But then the choice could be as simple as an astronaut being from your hometown or state, or because he likes the same football team as you, or he or she was the part of the first mission you ever watched. I have many favorites and I couldn't just point to one single person. My first astronaut I met was Robert Curbeam and that was amazing. The most impressing meeting with an astronaut was with Chris Hadfield. Terry Virts, even though we haven't officially met yet, is one of my favorite because I was at his launch of STS-130. TJ Creamer because we actually talked in February 2010, when I was visiting JSC and he was on the ISS. And well, there is Clay... Clayton Anderson who is one of my dearest favorites because he is just so accessible, helpful and really just knows how to make you be part of it. Plus, he is the only Nebraskan to have visited the cold environment of Space...

On April 12, 1961, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human
to travel into Space in a Vostok 3KA-2 (or Vostok 1)
Friendship 7 was the first American manned orbital mission on February 20, 1962,
piloted by John Glenn. On STS-95 he became the oldest person (age 77) to ever go into Space

Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong - first man on the moon

A lil love can't hurt! 
Clay volunteered to be my host the very first day I got to JSC in September. And man, he showed me around and visited areas, I don't think I would have ever dreamt of visiting. Especially the space potty... He also introduced me to other astronauts and that was truly a lot of fun. Surprisingly enough, astronauts don't seem to be too amazed to meet a fully dressed, and with mission pins decorated, rubber chicken. I guess they have seen worse!

But I did want to take some time and introduce you to Clay a little more. 

Let me first start by saying that I started to like Clay when he joined Twitter and barely had any followers. He was the Astro-Twitter-New-Commer and because I had already know about Clay and how funny he can be, I decided to make him my favorite right there and then. Over time him and I would interact with each other by means of Twitter. Little SDO and I sometimes got questions we couldn't really answer. Guess who has always been there for the questions that only real astronauts know the answers to? You got it - Clay! 

Clay's note to me! 
So I sat down with Clay and asked him a few questions. Now that I have been going through this astrochick training here, I have a much better sense of what is happening. But still, there are questions that I am very curious about. In case you don't know, Clay spent 152 days on the Space Station back in 2007 and then visited the ISS again about 6 months ago. My first question to Clay was about space sickness and how astronauts prepare to cope with it. I myself tried acupuncture and word is that the Taikonauts (the Chinese astronauts) use acupuncture too. So here is what Clay had to say:

Cartoonist Jeff Koterba drew this picture of dogie,
a character he created when he was a child, to be carried
by Astronaut Clayton Anderson on the Space Shuttle
Discovery. (Courtesy Jeff Koterba)
"NASA does not use acupuncture or any "real" preparations for dealing with motion sickness. Some astros will fly a T-38 hop and do acrobatics in the lane to help their vestibular system adapt to the microgravity they will experience in space. Statistically (I was told) that at least 1/3 of astronauts experience some symptoms of motion sickness when the go into orbit, but those usually subside in a couple of days!". 

That matches with my experience from last week, when I flew on the "Vomit Comet". I was part of the 1/3 who was fine. But then what happens once you are up there and you are sick. Was it easier the 2nd time for you?

"Experience is most helpful. We also have some medications that help to minimize the symptoms. A good night's sleep on the first orbit day is the best medicine. (Camilla's comment: Kids, listen to your parents when they tell you to go to bed!). Personally, I never got sick on my first tip into space until I landed after 152 days in orbit. That was due mostly to the ingestion (required) of salt and fluids prior to landing to "replenish" your system to help you avoid motion sickness. Often, the fluids don't get fully absorbed into your body, which can lead to post flight complications. On STS-131, I felt a bit queasy when welanded but after some water, an IV and half a bagel, I was ready for the Shuttle walkaround!"
Expedition 15 crewmembers posed for photos at the conclusion of a press conference
at the Jonson Space Center. From left are Astronauts Clayton C. Anderson (flight engineer),
along with Cosmonauts Oleg Kotov (flight engineer)  and Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin.
Clay, as you know, I also learned about health in space when I met with Liz a couple of weeks ago. What did you do on the ISS to monitor your health?

"We did physical exams periodically of our body, blood pressure, vision, hearing etc. Mostly our health was monitored on our own, with occasional chats with our flight surgeon (weekly). 

Fascinating. There is really so much more to human spaceflight than we can see at first glance. Now Clay, when did you decide to become an Astronaut?

"I was 8 years old and was enamored by the Apollo 8 astronauts flying around the moon for the first time! It became more real later. I could see becoming an Astronaut when I was in HS/College."
Clay, Opus and me
And what what do you say to the many children who dream to be just like you? 

"Find out what you love to do... do it with passion.... then get a little luck!"

Wonderful. Now between you and me, what was your #2 choice of profession? 

"Being a professional athlete was my second choice, but I wasn't good tough! So I guess an aerospace engineer!". 

There you have it. I admire everyone who makes all of this possible. While Clay and his astronaut friends are the ones up there doing the work, all of this would not be possible with so many other people and teams here on Earth, all over the US. I hope you were able to learn more about some of the many functions that are needed behind the curtain to launch, support and bring back our astronauts. And while there is always a risk involved, every single person is proud to be part of this amazing journey and they all give their best to make it better, safer and most successful. For all of that I would like to extend my thanks! 

Follow Clay's adventures and his "Picture of the Day (Clay)" on Twitter @Astro_Clay

NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson, STS-131 mission specialist, participates in the mission's third and final session of extravehicular activity (EVA) as construction and maintenance continue on the International Space Station. During the six-hour, 24-minute spacewalk, Anderson and astronaut Rick Mastracchio (out of frame), mission specialist, hooked up fluid lines of the new 1,700-pound tank, retrieved some micrometeoroid shields from the Quest airlock's exterior, relocated a portable foot restraint and prepared cables on the Zenith 1 truss for a spare Space to Ground Ku-Band antenna, two chores required before space shuttle Atlantis' STS-132/ULF-4 mission in May

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