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By Nadia Maria Smith
CS&T Staff Writer
Flying into space is a pretty common thing these days for nearly 70 people according to U.S. space shuttle Commander Christopher Ferguson, a 2008 Distinguished Catholic School Graduate from the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
He recently completed a 16 day mission to space, and although it was considered routine trip, he never ceases to be in awe of flying into space.
“Launch is exciting – there is a lot of anticipation,” Ferguson said.
But as the commander of Endeavour, he is paying close attention to ensure that the shuttle works properly. However, “it’s largely out of your control, so you bless yourself and hope for the best,” Ferguson said.
The thrill of blast off lasts a short eight minutes before the crew is floating in orbit.
That’s when “you turn this orbit into a place to live,” Ferguson said. “We take our suits off and put on our regular clothes. Then we take the seats out, pull out our laptops and get to work.”
The laptops are plugged into the shuttle’s communication system and operate via the NASA satellite on Earth. Although they don’t have internet access, they do get continual message updates from base and are able to check email.
Their second day in space entails undergoing the tedious process of inspecting the spaceship from top to bottom to make sure it didn’t endure any damage on take off. If it did, they work on repairing it.
By the third day they make their stop at the International Space Station to visit the crew there and participate in the station’s day-to-day life for the remainder of their stay in space, including unloading, installing and fixing equipment and providing manual labor for the space station’s crew.
The final mission is returning to Earth in one piece, which the Endeavour crew did on Nov. 30, when they landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Ferguson even got a call from space when the commander of the space station called to congratulate and thank him for his work.
Ferguson, a graduate of Archbishop Ryan High School, believes his Catholic upbringing and education prepared him to become an astronaut.
He still fondly remembers some of his favorite science teachers such as John Connelly, his former chemistry teacher and Harry Neenhold and Frank Morris, both former biology teachers at Ryan.
“I had wonderful teachers in high school and throughout the years I have always pointed back to them for my source of inspiration,” Ferguson said. “These guys made studying science fun and very interesting to me. They really helped hammer it home for me.”
He also appreciates the Catholic culture that instilled discipline, respect, work ethic, and a foundation in faith.
“It’s a huge beautiful world out there and we are lucky to be a part of it,” Ferguson said. “For those who are faithful, and I like to think most of us are, you see God in our little speck of dust in the universe.”