Now, there are a lot of really awesome things about working at the National Air and Space Museum. But I have to say, meeting an astronaut has got to be way up there. Last Thursday there was a Meet an Astronaut program at the Museum with Dr. Thomas Marshburn who, two months ago, returned from a 5 month stint in the International Space Station. It was awesome.
Some other interns and I got there a few minutes before they were scheduled to begin, but they weren’t letting anybody else in for the time being (the lecture was in the Moving Beyond Earth exhibit which has a stage and a really cool layout incorporating in a model of the Discovery space shuttle but it doesn’t have a lot of room). So for the first minute or two, we listened from just outside the exhibit room and watched on a screen. But then, when they realized we were interns, they let us in. NASM badge to the rescue!
It was extremely interesting listening to Dr. Marshburn talk about his experiences living and working in space. He showed a video that was shot in the ISS and narrated along with it live, pointing out the especially interesting parts and telling anecdotal instances he thought might interest audience. After the video was over, he spoke a bit more and then opened the floor to questions. The questions ranged in askers (from small children to professionals on their lunch breaks) and in topic (from “what did you miss most” – answer: wife, daughter, cheeseburgers – to “from a medical perspective, how long has it taken for your body to adjust to being back on earth” (answer: after two months, his body is finally close to being back to how it was before he went to space; because there isn’t any gravity in space, his muscles and bones atrophied after months of very minimal use and once he returned he had to build them back up again.) which made for an extremely interesting talk.
Opening up the floor to questions meant that topics were brought up that I would never have considered or known about otherwise. I learned that it’s nearly impossible to shower in space (you know, no gravity and all…) and therefore astronauts just use wet wipes and dry shampoo. I learned about the different projects occurring on the ISS. And I learned that Thomas Marshburn returned to earth via a small Soyuz spacecraft just big enough for the three astronauts it carried which deploys a parachute as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere and lands in the desert. Welcome back to Earth.
I loved that the Museum allowed anybody who attended the free lecture to ask a question. It made the whole event feel very inclusive and enabled everyone to get involved. The lecture should eventually be available online, although as of posting it’s not yet up. It should hopefully be available soon. When it is, I would highly recommend checking it out: http://airandspace.si.edu/events/webcasts.cfm
It was after the event was over that the event title “Meet an Astronaut” came true for the interns. Anybody in the museum was invited to meet Dr. Marshburn or get him to sign something (one man in line had a book filled with astronaut signatures, which seems like a pretty cool thing to collect). When it came to be our turn to meet Dr. Marshburn, all the interns pretty much realized we had nothing for him to sign. We all introduced ourselves to him and explained that we were NASM interns, and he agreed to take a picture with us. So we all gathered together and took a group picture, which was really nice of him and a great souvenir from the experience.
So basically, I came to work that day, thinking it was going to be just any other day, but instead I listened to lecture about living in space from an expert on that topic and got a picture with an astronaut. But really, the fact that the day took such an awesome turn really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me. It’s just another day at the National Air and Space Museum.