After seeing Doug Wheelock in action this week in Washington DC, I’d like to give him a new title: Space Ambassador! Doug, aka @Astro_Wheels, shared heartfelt stories of his time in space during our latest NASA Tweetup, March 16, 2011.
Doug and Tracy Caldwell Dyson came to DC to debrief NASA employees on their Space Station Expedition missions, visit with Members of Congress and Hill staffers, and talk with space tweeps. We haven’t convinced Tracy about tweeting yet, but we might just wear her down after all — now that Doug is a fervent social media convert.
Doug joined an auditorium-full of space tweeps at the NASA tweetup. He shared stories and answered questions for several hours. Then he stayed to sign autographs and pose for pictures until the last tweep left the building. Wow. What a guy!
Doug gave them reason to stand in a long line for one-on-one time. During the Tweetup, he shared his awe and wonder about the vastness of space and the beauty of our home planet. He said that if he’d lived on another planet in the universe, Earth would have been the place he would most want to travel to.
In order to share his experience with those of us who will never leave this planet, he asked Mission Control for a camera lens and setting that most mimics what the human eye can see — so that he could let us see space through his eyes. But, he told us, no photo does the Cupola views any justice. The broad brush strokes of auroras captivated his attention, and many photos as well. I’m obsessed with auroras, so I’m glad he shared so many with us.
We learned details about life in space, like the violent ride to space on the Space Shuttle and the explosive return from space inside a Russian Soyuz. He described the smells of space: a musty odor like a wine cellar in the Russian modules, sterile computer-fan smell of the U.S. modules, and the burnt match smell of space that lingers on spacesuits for days. When asked how he felt after coming back to a gravity-filled life, he said he felt it most in his neck — from having to hold his head up.
Things break on Station, making life “interesting” off planet. Tracy told NASA employees earlier in the day that residents of Space Station don’t have the luxury of zipping over to Home Depot for supplies. Doug recounted the experience on July 31st when the Space Station ammonia pump shut down, and life slowly drained from the orbiting spacecraft. Working closely with Mission Control on a fix, Doug and Tracy saved Station through a series of unplanned space walks. Space walks are are extremely physically challenging. Even though everything floats in space, Newton’s Laws of Motion still apply. Doug told us the hardest part of working is space is learning to maneuver with a light touch, rather than a push.
Doug told us how his dreams changed using social media. Twitter allowed him to enter into a global conversation about space. Though he can’t take us all with him to space, social media tools allow him to bring us along for the virtual ride.
Doug encouraged all of us to nurture the dreams of our children. They are our future, after all.
Thanks Doug for caring enough to share your amazing experiences in space. You ROCKet!