Mt. Juliet native Barry “Butch” Wilmore watched this week’s rocket explosion from 200 miles above the surface of the planet. The accident destroyed both food and scientific equipments earmarked for the astronaut’s nearly six-month mission. But the fact that he’s on the International Space Station seemed to keep Wilmore in good spirits.
“Fascinating is not a good enough word to describe it,” he said during a phone interview with WPLN.
Wilmore said the mood did turn somber this week as the crew watched a live feed of their supply vessel explode just seconds after liftoff: It was hard to see the work of so many people destroyed.
But the crew is grateful that no one was hurt, he said, and they’ll be fine without the cargo. Wilmore said the six astronauts on the ISS have still plenty of experiments to fill their time — for example, researching how combustion works in a vacuum and how the body adapts to space.
This is not the Tennessean’s first time in space or at the space station. But his last visit, 11 days during a shuttle mission, was tightly scheduled: “Go, go, go the whole time,” he said.
The pace is a little different for an astronaut taking up residence for several months. So far, as busy as Wilmore’s been, he said he’s had time to see 360-degree views of Earth and space from of a cupola window on the module called “Node 3.”
Wilmore called the view is “awe-inspiring” and “amazing,” with a smile in his voice. But Wilmore got an even better view a week-and-a-half ago as he helped with some repairs on the outside of the station.
His spacewalk lasted more than six hours. Wilmore said it was incredible to realize that, at that moment, he was one of only two people in the entire universe separated from space by nothing but the thick fabric of a space suit. If he could have pinched himself and felt it, he said, he would have tried.
The primary focus was, of course, the mechanical tasks at hand. But Wilmore says he prepared ahead of time to steal glimpses of space without the filter of air in the way — no dust, no humidity, just a vacuum.
“You know, I spit-shined my visor real good so I could just see how unbelievably clear the view is,” he said. “It’s just, as I said, it’s mesmerizing.”
Next month, Wilmore will take over as the station’s commander, leading a crew of Russian, American and Italian scientists. He’s due to come back to Earth in March.
Wilmore and his Russian crewmates, Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova, arrived at the International Space Station last month.