Aboard the Space Shuttle

A story about perspective.

Oct. 5, 1984: Space Shuttle Challenger launch on Kathryn Sullivan’s STS-41G mission. Image photographed by astronaut Paul Weitz, who was piloting the Shuttle training aircraft. (NASA)

I’ve always had a thing for the space program, growing up, as I did, a few hours from Cape Kennedy. I built a lunar module kit when I was nine and had a map of the moon on my wall. My grandfather was even a guest at the Apollo 11 launch in 1969 and I treasure his VIP pass. In college I had an opportunity to spend an afternoon with Kathy Sullivan, one of the early women astronauts and a geologist, who came to talk to our planetary geology class about her mission. In October 1984 Kathy had the distinction of being the first woman to space walk. After class, we retreated to our professor’s home for an informal gathering. There she shared a funny little experience that has stuck with me, and that I will re-tell here, to the best of my recollection, the way I heard it.

Astronaut Kathryn Sullivan (Image credit: NASA)

When you prepare for the space walk in the shuttle, you get into the space suit which is thick, and your own complete environment. So whether you’re inside the ship or outside, in some ways you feel about the same.

The hatch outside was a little portal, about the size of a body in a spacesuit. When you exit the ship through the portal, you’re face down in the bottom of the giant cargo bay. The helmet is good, but there’s still limited visibility. You’re pulling your way along holding a cable that’s in front of you. If you look straight ahead of you, it’s a wall. If you look left and right you’re still inside what seems to be an enormous room, so you still sorta feel like you’re inside, not that much has changed.

As you pull yourself along the cable into the cargo bay, since you’re weightless, you’ll notice your legs drifting away from the wire. If you can picture it, it feels like you’re doing a handstand, shuffling through this warehouse room.

But the moment you look down toward your feet something happens suddenly. The space shuttle is circling the earth inverted, and the cargo bay is open toward the earth. So in that instant, I shifted from doing a handstand in a warehouse, to hanging by a wire 300 miles above the earth. I looked down and saw my feet dangling.

Space Shuttle Endeavour, July 16, 2009 (NASA)

It was intense.

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Living a creative life, a student of high magic, and hopefully growing wiser as I age. • Ex-Lucasfilm, Netflix, Adobe. • Here are my stories and photos.

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