Astronaut Michael J. Foreman has successfully completed some high-flying missions as a two-time spaceflight veteran.
But, as he addressed a packed-out room at the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center Sunday afternoon, it’s those down-to-earth questions that always get in the way!
“How do you go to the bathroom in outer space?” asked one young visitor.
Foreman’s hour long presentation attracted an enthusiastic and inquisitive crowd that brought wide-ranging questions from astronaut interests of all age groups.
“Have you ever touched a star?” asked a little girl.
“No, stars are just too far away,” explained Foreman, a 1975 Wadsworth High grad who has come home to the area for a year of work at the Glenn Research Center. “But does anyone know what star is closest to Earth? It is the sun. And that is 93 million miles away. On our space flight, we only went up 220 miles.”
“What,” asked a mother in attendance with her husband and their small children, “is it like to see Earth from outer space?”
“I am glad you asked that question,” answered Foreman. “It is just incredible. To look down and realize that everything you know, everything you love is on that fragile planet below is just incredible. If doesn’t start you thinking about a higher power, it makes you think about the ecology when you see that thin layer of atmosphere that protects us all.”
The amazement of space flight has obviously never diminished for Foreman, who invested a career in patience and determination before finally lifting off in STS-123 in March of 2008 when he was already 50 years old.
Foreman, a retired US Navy captain, explained how he was rejected twice for the space corps before being accepted into NASA’s astronaut program. Then, he saw his scheduled 2004 first flight cancelled to the Columbia accident.
“Is it true that you get taller in space?”
“What does it feel like to be weightless?”
“How do you sleep in outer space?”
“Does it feel like you are moving fast when you are in orbit?”
Some adults brought personal souvenir photos for Capt. Foreman to autograph after his presentation. A couple little boys arrived in astronaut uniforms. Extra chairs had to be set up as Foreman presented a video clip from one of his space flights. The clip featured a unique interior view of the international space station and views of a space walk.
“You really don’t ‘walk’ when you are on a space walk,” explained Foreman. “You are tethered to the ship and you don’t want to get away from it. So, mostly you use your hands.”
“And, yes, you do get taller when you are in space,” said Foreman. “When you are in space, you don’t have gravity pulling down on your spine and all those disks in your back and in your joints. Most people gain about two inches in length while they are in space.”
Sleeping, he said, can be tough without gravity holding you to a mattress. “You kind of climb into this sleeping bag so you don’t float around and bump your head while you are asleep. But you are still floating while you are inside the bag,” he said, adding that he only caught about a 3 and half hour snooze his first night in space.
And, although Foreman Foreman traveled 11-million miles in 412 orbits around Earth, he said there was no real sensation of speed. A space flight, said Foreman, is pretty turbulent through liftoff.
Then there is weightlessness followed by an uncomfortable heaviness when you get back to earth. “You feel pretty heavy for a few hours. And you can have some dizziness or vertigo because of the way weightlessness affects your inner ear. So you want to move slow for a few days and not turn or change directions too fast,” he reported.
Foreman received his Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy and his master’s degree from the U.S Naval Postgraduate School.
He was named chief of External Programs at NASA’s Glenn Research Center last summer for one year and retains his position in the astronaut corps.
Foreman also flew on STS-129 2009. He has logged over 637 hours in space and participated in five spacewalks, logging over 32 hours outside the craft.
“I am happy that Mike agreed to join the staff of Glenn Research Center,” said Acting Director Ramon “Ray” Lugo when Foreman took the position in June. “Having a veteran of spaceflight, who happens to be a native of Ohio, will help us inspire the next generation of space explorers here in northeast Ohio.”
Judging by the crowd at the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center last Sunday, there will be plenty of future candidates ready to touch a star!