Note: This story originally appeared in the Observer on July 21, 2009.
Bob Marshburn had a hard time concentrating on his patients Monday at his doctor’s office in Commerce, Ga. His little brother Tom was taking a walk - in space.
On the 40th anniversary of man’s first step on the moon, Tom Marshburn, born and raised in Statesville and graduated from Davidson College and Wake Forest medical school, stepped out of the International Space Station’s hatch about 11 a.m. Monday. He stayed out most of the afternoon with fellow Endeavour astronaut David Wolf.
It was Wolf’s second space walk during the 16-day mission and Tom Marshburn’s first.
He and Wolf spent most of the day anchoring a 6-foot dish antenna and a cooling system pump on the space station for later use.
Here on Earth, Marshburn’s six siblings, including brother Paul of Davidson, watched when they could.
“I’ve watched in between patients, “ Bob Marshburn said. “I’ve struggled a little bit concentrating on the practice of medicine. I can’t help to admit that I was more interested in what he was doing. I was hoping he could have used me as an experiment - who needs a monkey? All they had to do was put me in a cargo bay and give me oxygen.”
Paul Marshburn, also a physician, caught one glimpse of the walk on TV during his busy schedule Monday. It was in the surgeon’s lounge at Carolinas Medical Center.
He pointed out to another surgeon that one of the astronauts walking in space was his little brother. “He looked at me kind of surprised, “ Paul said. “This walk is a defining moment for Tommy, a culmination of being in a place where he can be making a difference in the way he’d like.”
Paul phoned his home in Davidson and left a message for his wife, Nancy, to record the walk.
Space is where Tom Marshburn had wanted to go since he was a boy in Statesville.
His walk Monday was the first of three he’ll make during the mission that ends July 28. It unfolded 40 years to the day that two other astronauts - Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin - walked the moon’s dusty surface as crew members on Apollo 11. As Armstrong placed his left foot on the moon, he uttered his famous line: “That’s one step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Monday’s spacewalk was the 202nd by Americans since that lunar excursion.
While Tom Marshburn and Wolf were attaching the dish antenna and pump, astronauts inside the space station replaced parts to fix a broken toilet. The repairs were successful - to the relief of everyone.
Midway through the spacewalk, Marshburn reported he’d dropped his 85-foot tether, causing concern from officials at NASA. He remained safely hooked to the station with a 55-foot tether, but the antenna installation was delayed while he rescued the longer cord and snapped it back on.
Most of Marshburn’s siblings have e-mailed well wishes to their brother in space, but had not heard back from him.
But Monday, Bob Marshburn received an e-mail from Tom’s wife, Ann, with this in the subject line: “Phone calls from afar.”
Ann Marshburn told him she was sitting down to e-mail her husband Sunday when her cell phone rang with a NASA number. It was Tom calling from the space station.
He couldn’t talk long, she said. He was preparing for his extra-vehicular activity (EVA), the term astronauts use for spacewalks.
There was a two-second delay as the signal bounced between satellites. “You just had to get used to speaking in paragraphs and then wait, “ she e-mailed Bob.
Apparently Tom is the crew’s photographer, as well as its doctor.
He has sent his wife photos of life on the space station. “Ann noticed he was never in them, “ Bob said. “She e-mailed him back and suggested he turn the camera around so he, too, could get in some of the pictures.” The Associated Press contributed. Obama lauds heroes of space exploration
Hailing the Apollo 11 astronauts as “three American heroes, “ President Obama said Monday that exploration spurs ingenuity and inspires students in math and science.
Obama commemorated the day 40 years ago when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took mankind’s first steps on the moon.
The president compared the astronauts’ accomplishment to one of his own goals: America having the highest high school graduation rate in the world by 2020.
Obama said that Armstrong, Aldrin and command module pilot Michael Collins were the touchstone for excellence in exploration that inspired the scientists of today.
Astronauts attending the White House ceremony, including others from Apollo missions, made a pitch for a mission to Mars. The Associated Press contributed.
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