November 5, 2013

Hometown astronaut shares space stories with York students

Chris Cassidy, who just spent six months on the International Space Station, comes home to reconnect and visit his old high school.

By Gillian Graham
Staff Writer

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click image to enlarge

Astronaut Chris Cassidy speaks to students Monday at York High School, where he told stories of pranks, a spacewalk rescue and his acclimation to Earth after six months on the space station.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Astronaut Chris Cassidy poses for a photograph with York High School senior Annie Graziano during his visit to Maine on Monday. Taking the photograph is Matt Prouty, also York High senior.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Astronaut to give free talk in Portland Wednesday

WHO: Astronaut Chris Cassidy, part of the Butterfield Memorial Series

WHERE: Trinity Episcopal Church on Forest Avenue in Portland

WHEN: Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.


Cassidy said his training as a Navy SEAL helps him in tense situations because he can think clearly and prioritize what must be done.

In his two missions, Cassidy has made six spacewalks, for a total of 31 hours and 14 minutes outside the space station, which orbits 240 miles above Earth. The astronauts are always tethered to the space station during the walks, although they do have jet packs for propulsion in case of emergencies, he said.

After he returned to Earth in September aboard a Russian Soyuz space capsule, Cassidy said, he was unable to stand for the first hour. It was a week before his muscles functioned normally again.

Back in Texas, Cassidy was eager to shoot a basketball from the free throw line, to see if his brain could remember the amount of pressure needed to get it through the hoop. It did, but the shot “wasn’t pretty,” he said.

On Monday, Cassidy captivated students with descriptions of zero gravity, the smell of fresh fruit filling the space station when it arrived from Earth, and the close friendships he developed with his fellow astronauts. His account of how urine is recycled into drinking water aboard the space station drew gasps and giggles from students.

“Everyone always laughs about that, but it’s really tasty water,” Cassidy said.

With movie theaters now showing the hit film “Gravity,” which begins as a spacewalk gone wrong, Cassidy has been fielding many questions about what it’s like to walk in space. He said there’s nothing quite like floating in space with only your helmet visor between you and Earth.

“When you go out and it’s just you and your hands, your brain tells you you’re going to fall. You have to get used to that,” he said. “It’s freaky when it gets dark.”

Cassidy said he hasn’t seen “Gravity,” but hopes to squeeze in a trip to the movies while he’s in Maine.

His mother, Janice Cassidy, said she’s glad to have her son back in Maine, if only for a short visit. She still finds it hard to believe that her son is an astronaut.

“It’s something that is beyond your comprehension. He’s had such an amazing life,” she said. “He had been training for this mission for 2½ years. He was so happy and so excited the whole time he was there, I never worried.”

Monday’s visit wasn’t Cassidy’s first return trip to York High School, but the students’ excitement was still palpable. Members of the track and cross country teams had filmed the route of the town’s annual Fourth of July road race so Cassidy could participate from space.

“He’s so warm and down-to-earth and approachable that our kids realize ordinary people can achieve great things,” said Principal Robert Stevens.

After his vacation in Maine, Cassidy will return to Houston for a “9-to-5” job with NASA. He said it could be four or five years before he gets his next opportunity to go to space.

“I’d go back in a heartbeat,” he said.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

Twitter: @grahamgillian

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