WARREN — “I think in our lifetime, we’re going to see humans walk on the surface of Mars,” NASA astronaut Andrew Feustel told the crowd who came out for Summer Skies at Macomb June 14 at Macomb Community College.
“We are still exploring space,” said the 1983 Lake Orion High School graduate, a veteran of two space missions. “The space program is alive and well and we’re making progress. From space, we explore Earth, we explore space, and understand more about where we come from and where the universe is headed. We have a responsbility to check out asteroids.”
Feustel’s visit was among the many activities Summer Skies at Macomb offered at the school’s South Campus during the evening. One event included star gazing after dark with telescopes on the college’s soccer field. About 600 people attended the different events throughout the night.
“It’s important for me to visit community colleges and young kids to try to get you interested in space and space sciences,” Feustel, 48, said. “I’m a normal guy with a really good job.”
During the presentation, in which Feustel cracked a lot of jokes, the astronaut talked about the training he and his team endured to prepare to blast off into orbit. The packed audience also got a personal view of his missions through a slide show of images projected over a movie screen.
“We worked in underground labs in Florida and in caves in Sardinia, Italy. We trained on simulators in Houston,” Feustel said when describing the training process. “As a team, we work in challenging environments. We’re trying to find ways to understand ourselves better, how to work as a team and how to get things done.”
The Michigan native served on the crew of STS-125, the final space shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009. He said the crew trained three years for his first mission.
His second mission was two years later on the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s final mission for STS-134 to the International Space Station. A teammate on that mission was Mark Kelly, husband of former Arizona state representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot during a mass shooting in 2011 and survived.
“The Hubble gave us amazing images,” said Feustel, who once attended Oakland Community College and worked as an auto mechanic at International Autoworks, Ltd., Farmington Hills. “It’s beautiful. I saw the Great Lakes. I could see the mitt of Michigan. It was a beautiful sight. You can’t believe you are seeing the Earth. There are no borders. You don’t see all the crime. You don’t see people who are rich or poor.”
“Everything is floating in the middle of nothing,” said Feustel, who is married and has two sons. “There is a lot of space in space. It’s infinite. It’s amazing how much is out there.”
And it can feel desolate, he said.
“There is nowhere you can visit nearby,” he said. “It makes you feel this is the only home for humans.”
The moment in which the rocket left the ground to launch into space, Feustel said, was like something he couldn’t imagine.
“You’re feeling all the vibrations,” he said. “It’s a little bit violent. It’s loud. It’s amazing. It takes eight minutes for us to get to space from Earth.”
It’s a completely different story, however, when it’s coming back home, which Feustel described as “smoother than most airplanes when it lands.”
Being inside the rocket is not for the claustrophobic.
“It is very cramped,” he said. “All space crafts are very small. A space shuttle is about the size of a school bus.”
That changes, though, when lost in the galaxy.
“The space station we traveled to was about the size of a five-bedroom home,” Feustel said. “There was a lot more room to move around.”
As a youth who grew up watching television shows “Lost in Space” and “The Jetsons,” Feustel always knew he’d be an astronaut someday. For anyone thinking about following in Feustel’s footsteps, he advised having a strong background in technology, science and math.
The presentation brought out Nicole Parlor, who teaches the STARBASE program to fifth- and sixth-graders at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township.
“A lot of students ask me if I’ve ever been to space. It’s neat to hear someone who has actually been there tell their stories,” Parlor said.
Parlor compared astronauts to superheros.
“I think being an astronaut is still the last great explorer,” she said. “Space is that one place not everyone gets to go to. How cool to be one of those guys.”
As part of his Father’s Day present, Parlor brought her dad, Charlie Hughes, 66, of Auburn Hills, to Feustel’s presentation.
“I enjoyed the heck out of it,” Hughes said. “I’ve been a star-watcher for long time.”
Hughes planned to join the other star-gazers on the soccer field to view the sky after Feustel’s speech.
“You can see the space station travel tonight from northwest to northeast at a 16-degree angle for two minutes,” Hughes said.
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