Astronaut Jack Fischer shares “Awesome” ISS experiences during visit to NASA Glenn
GLENN RESEARCH CENTER, Ohio — Astronaut Jack Fischer’s favorite word is Awesome. And why not? If your job consists of rocketing into orbit aboard a Soyuz spacecraft and spending 136 days on the International Space Station (ISS), the word awesome is probably an accurate descriptor.
Shortly after arriving at the ISS on April 5, 2017 as part of Expedition 51, Fischer and his new crewmates gathered for a brief video communication session with ground controllers and the astronauts’ families. When Fischer’s wife asked him how it felt to finally be in space, Fischer replied without hesitation, “It’s a burrito of awesomeness smothered in awesome sauce, baby! It’s so beautiful.”
Fischer shared this same enthusiasm and passion for his work during a visit last week to NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. The visit was part of Fischer’s official post-mission debriefing following his return from ISS Mission 51-52 on Sept. 3, 2017. Fischer is visiting a number of NASA centers not only to share his recent experiences in space, but to talk with and thank some of the scientists and engineers who contributed experiments and hardware to his mission.
An audience of more than 200 people, mostly NASA Glenn workers, gathered to watch Fischer narrate a twenty minute video of his experiences in space. His engaging personality and good humor were evident throughout. It was clear that Fischer approached each day aboard the station as a day of important work and exciting discovery.
“For me, the best part of being in space was going outside,” Fischer said. Fischer conducted two spacewalks during his stay at the ISS, both with fellow astronaut Peggy Whitson. Following his first spacewalk, Fischer declared his time outside the station was, “the biggest slice of awesome pie” he’d ever seen.
Also on hand to see Fischer at NASA Glenn were groups of Girl Scouts from northeast Ohio who had spoken to Fischer during his mission via the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program. The effort is a cooperative effort between volunteer ham radio operators and NASA that connects young people to astronauts orbiting aboard the ISS. Fischer spoke to the Girl Scouts on June 23 of last year, during a summer camp event that attracted more than 400 people.
Fischer met with the Girl Scout groups after signing autographs and posing for photos with everyone in the audience who lined up to meet him. He also answered a number of questions from the audience and the media. One attendee asked how he trained to be able to operate and maintain so many different experiments and complex pieces of technical hardware.
“I launched six months early because of crew swaps,” Fischer pointed out. “For the first time in, I think, fifteen years we were the first crew of two to launch to the space station. Stuff was changing. Much of the stuff I trained on wasn’t even there. It was a different EVA. All kinds of stuff like that. Basically you have to train as a generalist. We want to train people to think, so they can look at something and say, yeah, I can figure that out. And that’s how they’ve built the training now. And I think it works. We’ve gotten so good at having all the experts, like folks here at Glenn, that we can work with. We can have them on the comm if we have some trouble. We can work together and get things solved.”
The always-positive Fischer saw only one downside to his work as an astronaut.
“My least favorite thing was being away from family, because you’re gone all the time,” Fischer said. “Twelve training trips that lasted six to ten weeks. That’s a lot of time. Then you throw in Europe and you throw in Japan. It adds up. The best part is…its awesome! Honestly I don’t know if there was anything I didn’t like on orbit. I loved it. Going outside was my favorite. Being in space is as awesome as it sounds.”
Astronaut Scott Kelly, in his recent book Endurance, gave an account of the many problems he experienced with the station’s Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly, or CDRA, pronounced Seedra. Kelly experienced frequent headaches and cognitive effects from rising CO2 levels, as well as frustrations in keeping the unit in good repair. Fischer was asked if he had similar experiences.
“Seedra is a bugger,” Fischer told Spaceflight Insider. “It’s an incredibly complex device that, thank goodness, Scott did a pretty good job of getting her going and then Shane Kimbrough and Peggy (Whitson) did a pretty major rehaul just before I got there. So, knock on wood, it worked great while I was up there. We had pretty low CO2 the whole time, because for a huge chunk of the time, for two whole months, there were only three of us on board, which is pretty rare. Then when we got the whole group up there, the CO2 started going up but it never really affected me.”
Fischer arrived at the ISS with cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, joining Expedition 51 Commander Peggy Whitson, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet and cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy. They were later joined by Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik, European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli, and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy. Fischer and Yurchikhin returned to Earth with Whitson aboard their Soyuz on Sept. 3, 2017.
Whitson returned to Earth having accrued a total of 665 days in orbit during her three trips into space, giving her more time in space than any woman worldwide and more than any other American astronaut. In her most recent mission, in addition to her many duties, she even helped look after Fischer’s diet.
“I lost twenty pounds in the first month because I wasn’t eating enough,” Fischer said. “So Peggy became kind of like a mom, told me I wasn’t eating enough. But I didn’t want to eat the 20 calorie stewed carrots. I wanted to efficiently get calories into my body. So i started making things like the Calorie Bomb. This was like macadamia nuts put into a lemon curd cake with vanilla pudding on top and then you mix it all around and you can eat it in like three minutes and you got a thousand calories.”
Such creations earned Fischer a reputation for on-orbit dietary inventiveness. However, he claims that he was only trying to get calories efficiently.
“It’s different for everybody,” he said. “Generally I think people’s metabolism goes up a bit when you’re up there. Your internal body heat goes up and your metabolism goes up so you have to eat a little more.”
Fischer told the story of how he, like so many other astronauts and cosmonauts, got slightly taller while in orbit, as a result of the spine stretching due to prolonged lack of gravitational pressure. He grew from 5’11” to 6’1″ tall, and said he hoped his wife would notice. But it was not to be.
“We were doing an experiment two days later,” he said. “They decided to measure me for the experiment…and I had already shrunk. In two days! So, as you can imagine the back did not feel good. I was under no delusion that I was still on orbit. It kind of hurt.”
His first trip into space was a feeling of physical freedom he says he will never forget
“When i was up there,” he said, “I felt like I was twenty and a ballerina.”
Fischer has stated that he is looking forward to another mission to the orbiting lab. When he goes, it will likely be awesome.
Michael Cole is a life-long space flight enthusiast and author of some 36 educational books on space flight and astronomy for Enslow Publishers. He lives in Findlay, Ohio, not far from Neil Armstrong’s birthplace of Wapakoneta. His interest in space, and his background in journalism and public relations suit him for his focus on research and development activities at NASA Glenn Research Center, and its Plum Brook Station testing facility, both in northeastern Ohio. Cole reached out to SpaceFlight Insider and asked to join SFI as the first member of the organization’s “Team Glenn.”
We have been studying humans in microgravity for half a century and the conclusion is obvious: Earth gravity and near sea level radiation are the prerequisites for long duration missions lasting several years. Nobody is going to sign off on permanently damaging people with profound debilitation and dosing. It is a challenge but certainly not a showstopper. This is the actual problem: requiring artificial gravity tether systems and massive kiloton range water shields generates shocked outrage and automatic denial because it means there is no cheap.