Attendees of a public tour of the Armstrong Museum with astronaut Gregory H. Johnson picked up a wealth of information about the past and the future of space travel in two separate tours at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Friday.
Johnson is a a NASA astronaut sand retired colonel of the United States Air Force. Johnson was the primary robotic arm operator on the March 11, 2008 Crew Exploration Vehicle, flight STS-123, and was the pilot of the final flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavor, or flight STS-134, which was the second-to-last flight of the space shuttle program.
Johnson discussed Neil Armstrong’s touching the surface of the moon as a defining moment in his life.
“It was a life-changing moment for me, said Johnson, who was seven years old at the time. “I watched it on television with my parents. Thirty years later I was picked to be an astronaut. This is a special place to me.”
Johnson told the audience of approximately 40 people that he had almost given up on a space mission when he was asked. He had served as a test pilot and as a fighter pilot in Desert Storm before he finally got the call for the STS-123 mission.
As Johnson and Armstrong Air and Space Museum Executive Director Chris Burton viewed the Gemini 8 module on display at the museum and discussed space travel history, Johnson discussed the differences in early space flight and space flight today. One of the biggest differences was the space available on the Gemini and Apollo spacecrafts as opposed to the space shuttle and crafts being planned for the future today.
“You have to remember that’s your dining room, your living room, your bedroom and your bathroom,” Johnson said.
Johnson also said training focuses more on background history and attitudes now that more is known about health affects from space travel.
“They didn’t know about health effects space travel could have on a person back then,” Johnson said. “You had to meet certain health criteria. They know much more know. To be chosen as an astronaut now, there is more of a focus now on your background and how you get along with other people. Since you are loaded up with all of those people.”
Johnson joked of the former 5-foot, 9-inch to 5-foot, 11-inch height requirement that used to applied to astronauts.
“What they didn’t know is you actually grow taller in space,” Johnson said. “Your background tends to get extended without gravity and I grew from 5-9 to 5-11. A lot of those astronauts were not meeting the height requirements.”
Johnson also discussed what astronauts eat and drink while on space flights, and even discussed the popularity of Tang being associated with space flight. he said he learned that lesson first hand.
“My first trip to space I took orange juice,” Johnson said. “In space, you have no gravity, so you have to suck it through a straw. The pulp gets stuck in the straw. The second flight I took Tang.”
He described using the restroom and how they dispose of the waste material. Urine is extracted from the ship in frozen crystal form, and solid waste is disposed of in bags and returned home.
“You have no gravity to help you,,” Johnson said. “It can get dirty.”
Johnson said now that the space shuttle program has reached its conclusion, a Russian craft that can transport three passengers at a time is used to travel to the international space station. In the meantime, he said private companies in the U.S. are racing to develop spacecraft that can be leased sand used for space travel.
Johnson said it is crucial to continue space exploration.
“It does cost a lot of money,” Johnson said. “But it is very important and we need to keep doing it. All you have to do and look at the things we have today because of space travel.”
To close out the tour, a teenage girl asked Johnson if Mars would ever be colonized.
“I think it is more unlikely that Mars will not be colonized,” Johnson said. “I think it is inevitable. Eventually there will be people born in space. I am 50, and by the time you are my age there will be whole fleets up there just like cars.”
Johnson also said he expects that China will be the next country to venture to the moon in the next several years.