10/29/2011 01:41 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2011

Out My Window, To The World... Above?

Events of October 24, 2011

As I wrote in one of my previous posts, before the spring of 2010, I was really an "outside" space fan -- cool places and events always seemed to be too far away or at times it wasn't convenient for me to travel there, so the most I could ever hope for was to read about them online and look at pictures. (But then I met Fred Haise, and then I went to the World Science Festival, and then Charles Bolden wrote back to me, and you know the rest.) But now that I've had the privilege to be "inside", at least a little bit, I don't automatically write off events as things I'll never be able to do just because they aren't right where I live.

I'd been in contact with MIT Professor Dava Newman and Postdoctoral Associate Ryan Kobrick, who'd told me that astronaut Nicholas Patrick would be giving a presentation at MIT's Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering department sometime in the next week, although the exact time hadn't been announced yet.

Since the MIT campus is just across the river from BU, if it turned out the lecture didn't conflict with any of my classes, I couldn't think of any reason I wouldn't be able to go. And while my archeology discussion section at 3:00 would have conflicted with the lecture at 2:30, we were lucky enough not to have a discussion that week. I was free!

I knew who Nicholas Patrick was -- I'd eagerly followed his second mission, STS-130, all the way through. I'd been on a college visit when Dr. Patrick was doing his spacewalks, and I spent hours in the Business Center of our hotel, watching live video of the work on NASA TV. That mission's job was to attach the International Space Station's Cupola -- a room with seven large windows that provide a wonderful panoramic view of the space station and the Earth. That was in February of 2010, a really busy, emotional time in my life for a lot of reasons, but following the shuttle mission brought me a lot of joy. At the time, I never thought I'd get any closer to any of the astronauts I was seeing than watching them on TV. What a difference a year makes!

I got to the Aero/Astro lab in time to meet up with Ryan before the presentation started. (One of the Aero/Astro professors who was there, Jeffrey Hoffman, turned out to be a former astronaut himself!) Dr. Patrick talked about how he was inspired to become an astronaut while watching the moon landings as a little boy, his training for his flights, and what it was like to do spacewalks. He said that moving around in weightlessness feels more like "swimming" than "flying", and that, because of where the Cupola is on the space station, when you look at the Earth, from those windows, the Earth appears "above" you, rather than "below". Currently, he's working on the new Orion crew capsule for NASA. I thought all of Dr. Patrick's presentation was incredible (and I really dug his cool British accent.)

After the presentation, we were allowed to ask Dr. Patrick questions. Mine was simple:

"Since you're so involved with creating new spacecraft, what about the future of human spaceflight most excites you?"

Dr. Patrick thought about my question for several moments.

"I can't pick just one thing because it's all so exciting!" He said. "Thinking about putting people in lunar orbit is exciting, going to Mars is exciting, visiting an asteroid is exciting, and the coming of space tourism for everyone is exciting. All of it excites me."

It's good to know a real astronaut feels the same way I do.