Boys & Girls Club of Troy members ‘space out’ with Endeavor pilot

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published February 8, 2012

 Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Greg Johnson, pilot on the Space Shuttle 
Endeavor, signs autographs and answers questions about outer space from children at the Boys & Girls Club of Troy Feb. 2.

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Greg Johnson, pilot on the Space Shuttle Endeavor, signs autographs and answers questions about outer space from children at the Boys & Girls Club of Troy Feb. 2.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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Although he knew the children had sat all day in their classes, Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Steve Toth cautioned them to stay still for the special guest who stopped by the afternoon of Feb. 2.

“This is a very exciting opportunity,” he said.

The young members of the crowd stayed on their best behavior as retired U.S. Air Force Col. Greg Johnson showed slides and talked about flying the Space Shuttle Endeavor to dock with the International Space Station.

“There are two kinds of astronauts,” Johnson said. “Mission specialists are the smart ones. NASA hired me to be a pilot.”

Johnson joined the Air Force when he was 22 and flew an F-15 aircraft as a fighter pilot.

He flew the Endeavor under Cmdr. Mark Kelly, husband of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Gifford, who suffered a gunshot injury to the head last January. The crew’s mission was to finish putting the space station together using robotic arms and walking in space to do it. He said it took 36 shuttle flights to complete the station.

“It’s pretty exciting to do a space walk,” he said.

The crew could call home from outer space, but had to share phone time. Kelly understandably had first consideration, Johnson said.

Seven million pounds of thrust are needed for liftoff, after which the shuttle travels at twice the speed of sound. That means that on the shuttle, the sun sets and comes up every 45 minutes, and it takes 90 minutes to circle the Earth.

“The sun came up 248 times on our last flight,” he said. “One of the things we love to do in space is sit around and watch the Earth —our beautiful planet,” he said. “You can see the International Space Station from Earth.”

He told the children to visit the NASA website, http://space flight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/SSapplications/Post/JavaSSOP/JavaSSOP.html and plug in their ZIP code to see the time and day when the space station can be seen with the naked eye from their area.

He also showed slides of the crew floating around the Endeavor.

“Zero gravity is really fun,” Johnson said. “We do lots of experiments without gravity. We can learn lots of interesting things.”

He said it takes awhile to adjust to gravity after landing back on Earth. Johnson said that once he was back, he put one arm around his daughter and held a can of Coke in his other hand. When his boss came up to shake his hand, he simply let the can go, and of course it spilled.

“In space, you could let something go, and it would stay there,” he said.

He showed a video of the crew diving across the station in zero gravity and eating M&Ms. The crew let the candies go and caught them in their mouths.

Johnson also stopped by schools in the Troy School District earlier that day, and he planned to speak at Athens High School to the general public that night. The Troy Oakland Pilots Flying Club, the Michigan Indoor Aircraft Association and the Skymasters Radio Control Club of Michigan sponsored Johnson’s visit.

“The adventure is a rare opportunity,” Johnson said. “It’s my duty to share it.”
Call Staff Writer Terry Oparka at (586) 498-1054.
 

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