Space Flight

Do astronauts come back from space changed?
Answered by Michael Massimino and Christopher J. Ferguson
  • Michael Massimino

    Michael Massimino

  • Christopher J. Ferguson

    Christopher J. Ferguson

  1. Michael Massimino United States Astronaut, NASA


    I think change, from what you see -- and you asked me if you feel incredibly small, and I realized a couple of things. One thing is I realized during my spacewalk I could look and I could see the Earth, and then I could look over here, and if the sun was out -- you can't really see, you can't look at the sun. It's too bright in space. It is like white light, it's just so bright. But you can look and you can see the stars or you might be able to at certain times see the moon, and you realize: Here's Earth; here's the rest of it. We are just part of it.

    We are really not in this -- we feel like we're in this little safe cocoon, but we're really out there with everything else. Earth truly is a planet out there in space, and we are just whipping around. It gives you that bit of a perspective. Seeing the Earth from that altitude, from that vantage point, I felt -- the one thought that raced through my head was: "This would be the view from heaven. If you were in heaven, this is how we must look." And that was just replaced by another thought, which was: "No, this is what heaven must look like." It is so beautiful you can't really describe it by words. It's such an extraordinary experience going there. So that experience always stays with you.

    Those memories I have of space flight are among the most meaningful of my life. If I see pictures or watch video of the flight. We have an IMAX movie -- Hubble 3-D is the movie that's out. I go to see that; I'm lucky enough to get to see that every once in a while, and it brings back memories of it. It makes me relive how cool this was.

    That's important, because you get back to Earth, you know the first thing, I pulled up into the driveway after my first flight, and I realized, "When did those shingles come off the roof of the garage?" No kidding. I was still in my flight suit, and I said, "How did that happen?" The pool needed some cleaning and we got back to the daily chores and issues that we have here on Earth. So I think it changes some things. I am very grateful for that opportunity. It gives you a different perspective on what the Earth is like. But day-to-day life is pretty much the same for me.

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  2. Christopher J. Ferguson Former United States Astronaut, NASA


    I never really would describe myself as a touchy-feely type of person. My first flight was very mechanical for me. You never know what to expect, so you just prepare by being very mechanical. "I am going to do this at this time, this at this time, this at this," you know. "I will look out the window at this time and enjoy myself." You file everything away. So I would say that after my first flight, no. But with each subsequent flight, as your degree of comfort increases because it's a familiar environment to you, you have time to reflect a little bit more.

    No question, professionally, space flight has changed me. I may have had a unique experience that not many have had the opportunity to have. But I'd say that personally, being able to look down on our planet, being able to see this International Space Station that we have built -- it's an incredible building in space. It can't not change you. It's humbling, and at the same time, it's inspiring.

    I'm just in awe of what humans can create in the form of the space station and this magnificent spacecraft that we've been flying, the space shuttle, and at the same time, look down and know that you can't see country borders, or there's very little that's obviously manmade that you can see from that altitude, and just look at this beautiful planet below. You can sense the roundness and the fact that it's just this thing in space. It happens to be a huge thing, but that we're really just a little part of this incredible universe around us. It has to change you.

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