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November 23rd, 2009
07:36 AM ET

Counting Down Cady: Cady, son watch Atlantis blast off

Catherine "Cady" Coleman, Ph.D. is a NASA astronaut – a veteran of two space missions, who has logged over 500 hours in space. She is assigned to the Expedition 26 crew and is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station aboard the Russian Soyuz 25 in late 2010. Below is a blog written by Cady exclusively for CNN via NASA's Astronaut Office.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="The space shuttle Atlantis STS-129 lifts off November 16, 2009 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida."]

By Cady Coleman
Special to CNN

Nothing beats watching a space shuttle launch – except being able to see it with your 9-year-old. Jamey knows that I am an astronaut, but watching a launch together helps him realize that his mom has really done THAT twice, and is getting ready to go a third time on the Russian Soyuz.

I was home in Massachusetts when STS-129 launched last Monday, and I watched the lift-off with Jamey and the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at Buckland-Shelburne Elementary. Because I am often working during a launch, Jamey and I have never gotten to see one together, and I was pretty thrilled to have been home in Massachusetts for this one. With the upcoming retirement of the shuttle, it’s strange to realize that there aren’t likely to be any shuttle launches when I get back from my flight to the space station.

I loved seeing the launch through the kids’ eyes. We were watching the countdown, and one of them asked me to rewind the tape so that we could watch the beanie cap retract again. It took a little explaining for them to realize that this was LIVE. Those 6 astronauts are strapped into the shuttle this very minute – and that we can’t rewind! They were so excited that they kept starting the countdown early! Patience comes hard at this age, so I filled the time before launch with explanations about the engines, the tank and the boosters, and I showed them the little window on the shuttle that was mine for my first launch.

Don't Miss: Follow Cady on Twitter @Astro_Cady

Finally, came the “5-4-3-2-1 Liftoff!” that they’d been waiting for. The looks on their faces were priceless. Eyes so big – mouths wide open, and lots of great verbal expressions that I wouldn’t expect from 8-12 year-olds! The camera view from the external tank showing the Earth in the background made it clear that the shuttle was headed for space – and fast! I think it is still hard for Jamey to realize that I’ve really been there and done that!

“What was it like for you to watch a launch?” asked one of the teachers. Hmmm. I’m usually too busy at launch time to be emotionally engaged – until the very last moments before liftoff. That’s when it hits me. The realization that something very big, very significant is happening, and there is nothing I can do to change the results. It is a big deal to launch people into space on a vehicle as complicated as the space shuttle, no matter how many times it has happened in the past. I can only watch and know that the people who get the shuttle ready for launch are doing their best to get everything right. I trust them to do that. They know that somebody like me will be sitting on that shuttle, betting my life on the quality of their work. However, none of that changes how I feel when the clock counts down to T 0.

“Do you ever wonder if your shuttle is going to blow up?” asks one of Jamey’s classmates. Whew. There’s a tough question. I’ve answered it at schools before, but never when my son was in the audience. Fortunately, Jamey already understands that I think the NASA mission is so important that it is worth the risks that we take when we go to space. As I explain, I see Jamey nodding wisely in the back of the room.

The other questions were easier. “What does it feel like to be floating?” “How do you eat?” “How do you sleep?” And, of course, they asked the inevitable “How do you go to the bathroom in space?” I like to explain that we use suction to make everything go neatly where it is supposed to go, with the clear instruction that regular vacuum cleaners are not to be used to try this at home!

My friends on the STS-129 crew are working in space even as I write. They’ve docked with the International Space Station and are transferring supplies and doing space walks to store the spare parts that we might need as the space station gets older. Although they are working hard, I’m sure they are having a great time up there – floating – eating – sleeping – and all those other fun things that the kids at Buckland Shelburne are now experts on!

Goodnight from Houston!


Program Note: Watch CNN's American Morning as we follow Cady on her year-long mission to space, and check back here for blogs, photos and video updates from Cady as she documents the behind-the-scenes life of an astronaut.

Filed under: Counting Down Cady • NASA
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Michael

    Wow this is a great blog, I'm glad I found it! Very neat to hear the interactions with your son and the class. My mom is a 7th and 8th grade science teacher in Illinois and I alert her when there is going to be a Shuttle launch and sometimes she turns on NASA TV in her room for it. We both love space flight and exploration. I follow NASA very closely. Here's hoping there is a very capable spacecraft to follow the Shuttle and more importantly, that NASA continues to have the support it needs and that young kids in the country absorb and are interested in the math and sciences that lead them to become future innovators.

    December 29, 2009 at 11:25 am |
  2. Raoul Lannoy

    Hello Cady
    We met in Paris in 1999 after your second flight (IAP) and I was quite surprised to see you were going back to space after all these years.
    You'll have the Cupola installed and there's a picture of you training in a spacesuit, which means you're hoping to spacewalk? Would that take place early or late in the mission?

    December 5, 2009 at 6:30 pm |
  3. Dan

    Cady, you must be very excited to be an astronaut! I wonder what your thoughts are on the prospect of building a single-stage-to-orbit nuclear thermal rocket which would provide vastly superior performance and greatly reduce launch costs. Any chance we will see this anytime soon (especially since it's so much safer that a chemical rocket system)?

    December 5, 2009 at 2:37 pm |
  4. Karen Moore

    Hi Cady, This is a voice from your past - remember USML-2, PCG and UAB. It's great to see that you are going to fly again. I look forward to keeping up with you throughout the next year and your time on station. Karen Moore

    November 23, 2009 at 10:38 pm |