June 25th, 2006 05:27 EST
NASA Astronaut Holds Webchat with International Audience
Riesman would like to see more nations work with U.S. in space exploration
Washington -- Garrett Reisman, a NASA astronaut who is currently in Star City, Russia, training for a future long-duration mission on the International Space Station, fielded questions during a June 23 State Department-sponsored webchat.
Reisman was selected for astronaut candidate training in 1998. Prior to his current training assignment he worked on the space shuttle’s robotic arm and cockpit displays, and in 2003, he lived on the bottom of the sea in the Aquarius habitat for two weeks.
Riesman explained that Star City, outside Moscow, is where Russian cosmonauts train for space flight. The facility features simulators for the International Space Station and the Russian Souyz spacecraft, as well as “a big pool for practicing space walks and a large centrifuge for simulating the high g's [several times the force of gravity] of launch and landing,” he said.
Working with the Russians “has been an amazing experience for me,” Riesman said.
“We have no problem understanding each other technically. The tricky part is being able to communicate in each other's languages not about technical things, but about everyday life,” he said. “It's easy to talk about de-orbit burns and life support systems, but not as easy to talk about who we think will win the [FIFA] World Cup!”
Reisman said international cooperation is important for NASA and urged webchat participants to encourage their governments to work with the United States in space exploration.
To build and operate the International Space Station, the United States teamed up with Russia, the European Space Agency, Brazil, Canada and Japan, he said.
The questions Reisman answered revealed an interest among international participants in having careers in the space program. He advised them to study mathematics and science and said opportunities for space-related careers likely would increase as “more and more nations get involved in manned spaceflight.”
“Even the private sector is getting into the game,” he said.
He said there are two kinds of astronauts at NASA: pilot astronauts, who are all military test pilots, and mission specialists like himself. Half of the mission specialists are military and half are civilian, and they are generally scientists or engineers who hold doctorate degrees, or are medical doctors.
“To be a good astronaut requires the same skills that make good pilots, [scuba] divers, and fire fighters - you have to work well and make the right decisions in an emergency even if you are in real danger,” Riesman said.
NASA’s current plan is to finish construction of the International Space Station, fly a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope, and transport the European and Japanese modules to the space station before they retire the shuttle in 2010, he said.
Riesman said living under the sea was the most exciting experience he’s had at NASA, “but I think flying in space will be better still.”
Many webchat participants asked Reisman to speculate about the future of space travel, and his answers were optimistic and hopeful. For him, space travel is full of promise and possibility.
“If you look at the probabilities – the vast number of planets in the universe – it’s hard to believe that ours is the only one that has intelligent life,” he said. "I do believe that we will find basic life forms one day in our own solar system. We just have to look in the right places.”
Many people support space exploration out of fear that the Earth is fragile and one day people might be forced to leave, Reisman said.
“I hope that day is a long way away,” he added. “Replacing the Earth would be very difficult if not impossible. However, I am a great believer that some day we will have colonies on other planets, starting with Mars.”
A copy of Riesman’s biography is available on the Web site of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. See also the NASA main Web site and International Space Station Web site.
A transcript of the webchat is available on USINFO’s Webchat Station.
For more information, see Science and Technology.
SOURCE: U.S. Dept. of State