RFHRHS Welcomes Astronaut Col. Douglas H. Wheelock

October 23rd, 2012

For Immediate Release: May 16, 2011

Col. Wheelock Commanded the International Space Station Until His Return in December.

RFHRHS science students gathered in the auditorium to hear Col. Douglas H. Wheelock, NASA Astronaut, speak about his  mission on the International Space Station. Col. Wheelock was in the area to speak at the West Point Prep School at Fort Monmouth and to visit Mr. and Mrs. Mark Sullivan of Rumson. The students in the audience gave Col. Wheelock their full attention as he told them about his experiences being launched from Kazakhstan on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station last June and his six months of orbiting the earth. He returned in December after having served as the Commander of the Expedition 25 mission since September. Coupled with his fifteen day mission on Discovery in October of 2007, Col. Wheelock has spent a total of 178 days in space. While he was on the mission, 120 microgravity experiments were completed, and the crew responded to a potentially disastrous emergency power shut-down that required three unplanned space walks to repair. He was the first astronaut to send photos back to earth on Twitter, and he showed many of them during a fascinating slide show.

Col. Wheelock spent seven hours on his first space walk and told the audience that all of the time that is spent in training can not prepare anyone for what happens emotionally upon stepping outside into space. He said that the view from inside the International Space Station is much different from the view outside, and the lack of any shade makes temperatures of 250-275* the norm. His task on the space walk was to attach a 37,000 pound solar ray onto the wing, but it had been torn in transit. As scientists at Mission Control frantically tried to decide on a plan of action, Col. Wheelock devised a solution based on skills learned in high school. His repair is still holding the solar ray in place. After his return, he called his metal shop teacher and said, “All I ever needed to work in space, I learned from you!” 

He inspired the RFH students when he told them to hold onto their dreams. “It took two guys with a dream that seemed a little crazy at first to start air travel, and it took a set of dreamers to start space travel. The next set of dreamers is now talking about a space station on the moon and going to Mars.” He said that students should keep going forward and laying the groundwork to make dreams reality. “Young people who are between 5 and 18 right now may be the first faces you will see landing on Mars.”

Questions from the audience were thoughtful. Q: “Did your muscles atrophy much from the weightlessness?”  A: This along with bone density loss is a big problem, and astronauts must exercise on a treadmill and stationary bike regularly in order to have the ability to walk on their return to earth. Q: “Do you get paid a bonus for commanding the space station?” A: “No bonus, but you get one heck of a company car!”  Q: Did you eat astronaut ice cream like they sell in museums?”  A: “No, the meals are the MREs that soldiers get in the field, and they taste like warm plastic. Eating is not a pleasurable experience; you eat only to refuel.” His program ended with thundering applause from the audience, and then Col. Wheelock visited several science classes before leaving the school. The experience of meeting an astronaut was one “giant leap” for the students of RFHRHS.
For more information:

Sharon Bryant, RFH Supervisor of Math and Science, 732-842-1597, ext. 265, sbryant@rfhrhs.org

Roberta Van Anda, RFHRHS Public Relations, 732-842-4562, avananda@comcast.net

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