Manila made history once again this year as History Channel brought in an astronaut accredited by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to give talks about spaceflight and share his experience after spending a total of 178 days in space.
Barry Wilmore, a Captain in the U.S. Navy, is a veteran of two spaceflights. He completed his first flight as pilot on STS-129 in 2009, where he logged more than 11 days in space, traveling 4.5 million miles in 171 orbits. From late 2014 to early 2015, he served as Flight Engineer aboard the International Space Station for Expedition 41 and then as commander of Expedition 42, totaling 167 days in space for that expedition alone.
The name may sound familiar to some as he became a hot topic on social media when a story about his alleged extraterrestrial experience went viral online.
This has already been marked as a hoax but since we don’t always get a chance to ask an astronaut about the most trivial and out-of-this-world topics that are not available in their professional bio, we went ahead and asked about his extraordinary experiences in space:
What can you say about the viral creepy story attributed to you online?
“That’s not true,” said the 51-year-old astronaut without us even reminding him about Ramirez. “I was in station when somebody sent that to me. I was like ‘Who in the world wasted their time making phony stories like that?’. I’d say it’s really creepy! And it’s really not true. I don’t know who or why. I’ve heard it… Nobody’s beaten at the outside of the hatch saying, ‘Let me in’. Never.”
Have you experienced other unexplainable instances while in space?
“I’ve never seen an alien that I can tell you about,” he jokingly says. “People ask me about Ramirez and aliens but neither of them are true.”
“Unexplainable? No, everything is explainable. Just take an assessment, whatever it is that you’re in. Certainly, there are things that happen and you go ‘That doesn’t make sense’ but you just assess it and go through back-up videos and you’ll go ‘Oh, that makes sense. I know what that is.’”
Millennials love to look for the truth. Let’s share one with correct quotes. If you were to recreate this, can you tell us a short space story that you want people to know?
“With respect to spaceflight? It’s way, way cool! I’ve flown jet aircraft of aircraft carriers, I’ve flown upside down at 200 ft. and 500 knots at airshows, I’ve done all kinds of stuff that you would think are pretty much the edge of the envelope as far as thrill. And it is thrilling, but the thrill of leaving the planet is hard to top so I would say that the fact that astronauts have the opportunity occasionally to leave the planet and experience spaceflight, that’s far-fetched… That’s why I say it’s way, way cool.”
For you, what would be the true horrors/risks of being an astronaut?
“There are many things [that] people don’t realize. You watch a rocket launch and you go ‘Wow, that’s really way, way cool’ but there are literally – and I kid you not – literally thousands of things that have to go right to make one successful launch. People don’t realize that, but you know in the space shuttle – the shuttle we use to fly – it has solid boosters (white things on the sides) and they are strapped down to the pad with big bolts… They had to both start. If one starts, one doesn’t, then you’re done. It’s a bad day. And those are just two aspects of thousands of things that have to take place during a rocket launch. So there’s any number of a thousand things that can go wrong and literally kill you.”
Astronauts also have to be extra careful while in space. According to Barry, things like an ammonia leak can even end station life.
“Ammonia is not like ammonia you clean with. This is nasty stuff. And when that ammonia goes out to the outside to the radiators, it dissipates the heat into space we have on the space station… But basically, an ammonia leak in the station ends the station life… If something like that happens, I mean it could be bad, it’s lethal. It can kill you, then it’s going to end the space station program because you can’t go to the U.S. Segment with ammonia in the atmosphere. So there are things like that. All types of things like that can happen to make a very bad day.”
Despite these risks, what made you love your job?
“Challenging. Absolutely challenging. Every day is new, every day is different – the variety of the job, the opportunity to leave the planet. When I launched on the space shuttle in 2009, I was the 505th human to leave the planet. The first was Yuri Gagarin back in 1961 and in 2009, I was the 505th person to have that opportunity. There are billions of people and many of them would love to go to space, but here I was, I’m the 505th to get to go so it was very humbling.”
If you were to choose between living on Earth and in space, what would you choose?
“Earth, for sure. The good Lord made us as individuals to interact, have families, and grow. We’re social beings and that’s in our DNA. In space, there’s not a lot of people out there now. I’d rather stay here with my family on Earth, but going to space to visit for short periods of time? Wow, that’s amazing. Way, way cool.”
Where can we go and where should we start if we’re interested to become a NASA astronaut like you?
“My training started when I was in third grade because that was when I started dealing with fractions. You gotta build the foundations and then you learn more. The foundation gets firmer as you go up and get a technical degree. Master’s Degree helps. And right now, for a Filipino, we don’t have that avenue to become a U.S. astronaut. You have to be a U.S. citizen.”
According to Barry, the U.S. currently has a program for European astronauts which allows the latter to fly to space using U.S. rockets, but the agreement isn’t open to the Philippines yet.
What subject should we focus on?
“Math and sciences are the key.”
Barry and the rest of History Channel’s stellar lineup will be having Meet & Greets, History Talks, and Workshops from August 10 to 13 at the World Trade Center in Pasay City. There, you will also find over 300 exhibits, from historic and classical displays of traditional, as well as contemporary and popular cultures.
Tickets are still on sale at SM Ticket outlets and www.smtickets.com.
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