STATESVILLE Rory McDonald wants to be an astronaut when he grows up.
On Sunday night, the 6-year-old met one in person on the lawn of Mitchell Community College in downtown Statesville.
Rory joined several hundred other residents who lined up to meet and greet Tom Marshburn, 53, a NASA astronaut who was born in Statesville and lived there until his family moved to Atlanta when Marshburn was 8.
Rory told Marshburn he’d seen the launch of the final space shuttle flight from Cape Canaveral, Fla., when he and his family lived in Jacksonville. He wants nothing more than to be on a flight to space someday, he said
“You’ve got to study hard, work hard,” Marshburn told Rory, who lives in Winston-Salem and showed up with his mom, Helen, who teaches biology and earth sciences at Statesville High School. He also got an autographed photo of Marshburn to take home.
Statesville threw a two-hour “evening under the stars” welcome-home party for Marshburn, who wore his blue, fire-retardant NASA suit and told the crowd about his recent five-month trip aboard the International Space Station. He planned the visit to his hometown while still aboard the space station, he said, communicating with Statesville Mayor Costi Kutteh.
Marshburn told the crowd how the six astronauts aboard the station worked 13-hour days conducting 130 experiments at any one time, from studies of metals to research on osteoporosis, he said. The astronauts had to exercise 2 1/2 hours a day because in space “you turn into a jellyfish.”
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.
Marshburn also performed an unplanned 5 1/2-hour spacewalk to fix an ammonia leak outside the space station.
He told the crowd how beautiful Earth looked, most especially his native Piedmont, of which he caught 15-second glimpses while encircling the Earth.
“I fell in love with Earth again,” he told the crowd.
On Sunday, Marshburn said how good it was “to be back under the trees” for which Statesville is noted, “how good it is to be back in my hometown.”
He’d last visited in 2009, when the city held a similar celebration after his first space flight.
On Monday, Marshburn will visit N.B. Mills Elementary School and Statesville High School before speaking at a noon luncheon hosted by the Statesville Chamber of Commerce at the Statesville Civic Center.
He will visit Davidson College, his alma mater, on Tuesday and Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte on Wednesday. He also plans to visit Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem this week.
Marshburn, the youngest of seven children, 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. His brother Paul lives in Davidson and is a reproductive endocrinologist at Carolinas Medical Center.
Marshburn joined NASA in 1994 as a flight surgeon assigned to Space Shuttle Medical Operations and to the joint U.S./Russian Space Program.
He made his first space walk on July 20, 2009, when he stepped out of the International Space Station’s hatch and stayed out most of the afternoon.
“He’s the most important Statesvillian in the history of the city,” Kutteh said.
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