Recently, I had the chance to live out a childhood dream and live like I had just won an episode of Legends of the Hidden Temple by going to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama in support of Fox’s new Cosmos series and NatGeo’s epically ambitious Live From Space, which premieres tonight at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT. By now, many of you have seen the breathtaking first episode of Cosmos (for more, read my interview with producer Ann Druyan) and boarded the Spaceship of the Imagination with Neil deGrasse Tyson, but tonight NatGeo is quite literally bringing outer space into your living room with Live From Space, a 2-hour live broadcast from the International Space Station. Yes, you read that right, and I’ll give you a moment as you’re likely verklempt.
Hosted by news anchor Soledad O’Brien and astronaut Mike Massimino, the first-of-its-kind broadcast will take us live onboard the International Space Station where American astronaut Rick Masstracchio, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata (the mission commander), and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin will field live questions and give you a sense of what it’s like to live in space. While down in Huntsville, executive producer Al Berman told us that “they’ve never allowed any media to have this kind of access,” but perhaps that’s for good reason. One of the principal challenges of the event is that they’ll lose signal with the ISS roughly every 20 minutes (and they’ll likely have to give our astro-hosts a break every now and then, to boot). To counteract this, they’ve also put together a plethora of pre-packaged segments about life in space, so you won’t find yourself caught in a black hole of dead airtime.
Check out the trailer to give yourself a sense of what you’ll be in for:
1. Astronauts are way cooler than you and I will ever be.
This was a given, but I spent my first night at Space Camp getting a refresher course in why being an astronaut is every child’s dream when a group of journalists and I sat down for a delightful BBQ dinner with astronaut Colonel Ronald Garan, who was previously a member of the International Space Station crew in 2008 and 2011. A former fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, Garan should, by rights, be oozing swagger out of every pore and constantly tilting his aviator sunglasses down to wink at pretty ladies and aspirational youths alike. Yet, Garan is a thoughtful, humble man who is grateful for the experiences his work has afforded him. His recollection of being in space during the Arab Spring in 2011 was both beautiful and moving; seeing the Middle East as a series of sparkling lights down below helped give him a sense of perspective about the conflict.
This perspective is paramount to Garan’s worldview, something he calls the “orbital perspective”, which essentially boils down to trying to push biases aside and view issues from a top-down view to tackle issues in a manner that benefits the world as a whole. Fittingly, Garan uses his stature as a platform to raise awareness for a variety of issues related to global conflict through his organization Fragile Oasis. With how easy it can be to get bogged down in the day-to-day drudgery, the orbital perspective seems like a refreshing POV that we can all apply to our everyday lives.
2. The thing astronauts miss most up in space is exactly what you think it would be.
During our wide-ranging conversation over dinner, I asked Garan what he missed most while up in space. His answer? “Beer and pizza,” he said with a smile. While I doubt we’ll be able to get an ice cold tallboy in orbit any time soon, NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program could soon make 3D-printed space pizza a reality. Hopefully the delivery radius extends 230 miles vertically.
3. Emetophobes need not worry; your lunch will (likely) not be lost.
Be honest — when you hear the words “Space Camp”, the first thing that comes to your mind is either the 1986 film of the same name or the giant gyroscopic chair that spins you around something like this:
Believe it or not, “giant gyroscopic chair” isn’t the technical name for it; it’s called the Multi-Axis Trainer (MAT, for short) and its intention isn’t to fill you with a deep and abiding nausea. Rather, it’s intended to simulate disorientation that can occur during spaceflight and EVAs. (Think Sandra Bullock after the debris starts hitting the satellite in Gravity). The spinning might seem overwhelming, but the machine locks your stomach in as the center of gravity, so it should keep you and the contents of your stomach from flying into orbit.
Likewise, the 1/16th gravity chair, which simulates the experience of walking on the moon and its reduced gravitational pull, and the scuba diving experience, which simulates the experience of a spacewalk, are thrilling, educational experiences that will leave you doubled over in exhilarated laughter rather than abdominal pain.
4. Space is constantly trying to kill you. Constantly. In new and horrifying ways.
We’ve all heard the adage that “in space, no one can hear you scream,” but what happens when you’re in the relative comfort of a spacesuit on an EVA (extravehicular activity) like a spacewalk and your suit’s coolant unit springs a leak? Well, if you’re astronaut Luca Parmitano, you don’t panic, even as you slowly begin to drown inside your suit. Watch this video to see how deadly serious these “anomalies” (NASA’s term for when shit hits the fan) can be:
5. You get to keep the flight suit. YOU GET TO KEEP THE FLIGHT SUIT.
Sure, onesies are ironically fun and kigurumis offer up a level of heretofore unheard of kawaii comfort, but nothing beats the energizing, empowering feeling of stepping into a crisp blue flight suit covered in official NASA emblems and badges. Do you have to tell people that you got this awesome attire at a day camp for adults? No. No, you don’t. Unless, of course, it’s Houston who’s asking, because astronauts need to follow protocol, after all.
You can catch Live From Space tonight on NatGeo at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT. Will you be tuning in? Let us know in the comments below.