01 Sep 2014
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In My Humble Opinion: Terry Virts (GMP 11, 2011)

Liquid salt and other realities of life in space
by Julia Hanna

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INTO THE BLUE: Virts, poised for a space-walk training session in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near Johnson Space Center. (Photos by NASA)

An astronaut with NASA since 2000, Terry Virts (GMP 11, 2011) piloted the space shuttle Endeavour for a 14-day mission to the International Space Station in February 2010. Virts, 46, returns to space November 24, launching from Kazakhstan in the Soyuz spacecraft for a six-month mission on the ISS to carry out maintenance and to conduct life-science experiments involving muscle and bone atrophy, immune-system degradation, and cardiopulmonary function, among many other physical factors. “It’s an awesome job,” says Virts, a native of Maryland whose parents both worked at Goddard Space Flight Center. “Mondays are still Mondays, but there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”

Best view of Earth: From the ISS’s Cupola, a seven-panel bay window installed by Virts during his last mission.

Favorite aircraft: F-16. “The control stick and throttles are on the side, so your hands are beside your knees. Once you have some experience, the plane is like an extension of you. You can almost make it go where you want just by thinking about it.”

Motion sickness meds: ScopeDex. Scopolamine prevents sickness and Dexedrine maintains alertness. “I’ve never thrown up in an airplane while flying. I need to knock on some wood right now.”

Tips for sleeping in space: Close the window shade and put in some earplugs. The sun rises every 90 minutes; fans and other equipment can be noisy.

Something he’ll miss: Showers. Damp, soapy towels are the best available option for getting clean.

Favorite space meal: Lasagna. Salt, pepper, and other spices are in liquid form to eliminate the problem of floating particles.

Toughest mission to date: Learning to speak Russian.

Personal items allowance: 1.5 kilograms. Virts will carry jerseys for the Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles and snapshots of his wife, son, and daughter.

Least favorite thing about space: The constant pressure of a computerized schedule. “For six months, every minute of my day will be scheduled. You can see a timeline of what you’re supposed to be doing at different times. The line is always moving to the right, to the next thing.”

Star turn: A 10-second guest spot with fellow astronaut Mike Fink on the final episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. “We were both engineers, working on the spaceship’s engine. It was really cool.”

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