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Q&A: Astronaut Tom Marshburn recovering from space journey

Astronaut and Statesville native Tom Marshburn returned to Earth on May 15 from the International Space Station, but he’s still feeling the effects of his five months in space.

“I don’t have all of my stamina back,” Marshburn said in telephone interview this week. But that’s to be expected, Marshburn said, and he’s now lifting weights as he follows NASA’s regimen to restore returning astronauts to full strength.

Marshburn and two fellow flight engineers launched aboard their Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft in December from Kazakhstan for a two-day journey to the International Space Station.

He landed back in Kazakhstan with Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield of Canada and Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko of Russia.

Marshburn will be in his hometown in September for events being arranged by Statesville Mayor Costi Kutteh, he said.

Marshburn, 52, graduated from Davidson College in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in physics and from Wake Forest University in 1989 with a doctorate in medicine.

He joined NASA in 1994 as a flight surgeon.

He made his first spacewalk July 20, 2009, when he stepped out of the International Space Station’s hatch and stayed out most of the afternoon.

On his latest trip, Marshburn said, International Space Station crew members conducted 130 experiments dealing with questions such as how fluids form and how fire propagates. The space station has six crew members virtually all of the time, he said.

They handled two emergencies: a coolant leak near the end of their stay and an earlier temporary loss of communication with Mission Control in Houston.

Fresh perspective of Earth

“At the space station right now, we have a spacewalk going on with two of my good buddies,” Marshburn said. “The space station is an incredible machine, the greatest engineering achievement human beings have ever put together.”

Marshburn was a prolific tweeter from space, sharing photos of Earth and thoughts on its splendor.

“Was greeted this AM by some spectacular hues,” Marshburn tweeted from his @AstroMarshburn Twitter account one morning. “U can always tell ur over Australia by the brilliant brick red color.”

He had 42,666 followers as of Wednesday afternoon. His July 8 tweet: “Rainfall never looks the same after living in space. I’ll love the sight and sound for the rest of my life.”

“Part of our job is to tell people about space, what it is like to live in space,” Marshburn said. “They have paid (for the missions) with their tax dollars, so we want to let them know about this incredible, life changing experience.”

Here are more excerpts, edited for brevity, from the Observer’s interview with Marshburn:

Q: How is the physical recovery after so much time in space?

You land, and you feel the crushing weight of gravity sucking you into the ground, and your head is spinning quite a bit, like the Earth is wobbling under you like huge ocean currents. Dizziness leaves after about a week, but you don’t get your stamina back right away. ... There’s muscle soreness during the recovery period. They (NASA) have a very specific regimen that combines agility exercises with head movements, squats, bending over and picking things up, light weights, and now I’m weightlifting.

Q: What’s the most difficult challenge to being or becoming an astronaut?

The hardest part is waiting for your flight. We all love working with astronauts, and we usually spend almost all of our time supporting other astronauts for their flight, and our hope to get assigned some day.

Q: Did you want to be an astronaut when you were a child?

As long as I can remember, I was completely fascinated with space. Since I was 6. When I was 7, my dad took me to see Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” at the (former) Playhouse Theater in Statesville.

I wanted to be an artist at first, but reading is a great way to explore what you want to do. I read books on building and launching satellites when I was 13.

Q: What is your advice to children who want to be astronauts when they grow up?

The best advice I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard it repeated often, is that kids need to start today if they want to become astronauts. Their training starts right now, learning how to learn in school, to be the best they can in school. If it’s something they love, chase it with a passion.

Marusak: 704-987-3670; on Twitter @ jmarusak
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