Editor's Note: 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= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/14/cady.josh.jamey.ksc.34.cnn.art.jpg caption="Astronaut Cady Coleman poses with her husband Josh and son Jamey at Kennedy Space Center."]
By Cady Coleman, Special to CNN
How does the time go so fast? Just a few weeks ago, Jamey, Josh and I were watching the Space Shuttle Discovery blast off from the Kennedy Space Center for the STS-131 mission to the International Space Station. Now it is May, and the STS-132 crew is already poised for their trip to the station to deliver our newest Russian module.
I’ve worked many of the launches over the years, but I’ve never been able to see one with my family. Because we launch from there, many folks think that astronauts live at KSC, but most of us are based in Houston. That’s why it is a treat to visit the space center, especially at launch time.
In just two days, Josh, Jamey and I watched a space shuttle launch, cringed as an alligator snatched a muskrat, strapped ourselves into a shuttle launch simulation at the visitors’ center and checked out the KSC SWAT team. For a 9 year old, vacation doesn’t get any better than that, and his Mom and Dad were pretty thrilled as well.
I marvel every time I fly into KSC for training. The center covers something like 140,000 acres, many of which are part of a wildlife preserve. Alligators, wild boars, snakes and manatees are everywhere, right next to active launch pads and massive machines like the crawlers that carry the shuttle stack to the launch pad. I know that the KSC workers probably get used to seeing these things every day, but driving by the launch pads is a huge inspiration for me.
I always try to make time to visit the old launch pads from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs when I come to KSC, and I felt lucky to be able to show these special places to Jamey and Josh. Those early missions were built one upon the other, flown by real people with the same passion for exploration that surrounds me in the NASA family. Even though it makes me sad, I often visit Launch Complex 34, where we lost the crew of Apollo 1. It is important to me to respect the memory of the astronauts that paved the road that I now travel. I am humbled to think about the moments in history connected to these places that have made it possible for astronauts like me to think of six months on a space station as almost routine!
Josh sees the launch pads in a different way. As a glassblower, he is constantly looking at how different materials contain or react to high heat. It turns out that the some of the bricks that are used to pave the ground directly below the rockets are the same ones used in glass furnaces. In fact, after exploring KSC during my first shuttle launch, Josh wrote an article about the high temperature Clipper Bricks used at KSC. “Visiting some of the old launch pads was exciting, some totally overgrown with vegetation, we felt a bit like archaeologists coming upon some sort of ancient temple. Only rusted steel and cement pillars where rockets once left the earth.”
I love it that Josh is just as fascinated with the world of space exploration I am. He just sees it from a different point of view. Of course that means that he’d go to space in a minute if given the chance…. I think he’d even shave off his mustache to wiggle his way into my seat on the Soyuz. I’m just lucky he doesn’t fit in my space suit! Be sure to look closely on launch day next December!
We also visited the KSC SWAT facility. They keep the astronauts and the space shuttle safe, especially at launch time. I had met some of the SWAT folks at my prior launches because they routinely follow astronauts when we run for exercise in the weeks before our launches. Just one more reason to stay in shape and not be a slacker! By the way, their weapons and armored vehicles beat out even the CNN satellite truck in the final balloting from the 9 year old judge!
In addition to our whirlwind tour of KSC, we watched the STS-131 launch with John Zarrella and the CNN team from the press site – what a cool view and an amazingly beautiful predawn launch! Even though I have seen launches before, every one of them is awe-inspiring.
Jamey claimed that the CNN satellite truck was more exciting than the actual launch, but I saw the look of amazement on his face when the solid rocket motors lit. He couldn’t help giving me a big thumbs up, a giant grin covering his face.
I was happy that we could experience a launch together now that he is old enough to take more of it in. When the ground shakes and you feel that loud rumble in your chest, you can’t help but realize that there is no stopping that space shuttle after it leaves the launch pad. Those astronauts have left the planet and they won’t be stopping until they arrive in orbit! Hopefully, these past few days at KSC have made it easier for Jamey to understand why his mother does what she does, especially when it means so much time away from him and his Dad.
Speaking of not slacking – the ISS Expedition 22 crew just finished getting their house in order after the departure of STS-131, and a Russian Progress vehicle docked with more supplies on May 1st. The crew will barely have enough time to put those away before the next space shuttle (STS-132) knocks on their docking port! These are busy times in space – and for us here on the ground as well.
‘Til Next Time